Jan. 25, 2012
Better than: Working in an Apple factory.
Barker-in-chief Issac Brock's band Modest Mouse played at the Warfield last night, some special event related to the giant Macworld confab going on downtown. The show drew a crush of bearded dudes and leather-booted ladies, who, before entering the venue, were treated to an extended stay in one of San Francisco's most delightful locales: That downtrodden, semi-dangerous corner of Sixth and Market, where a line hundreds of people long -- like, discouragingly long -- wrapped around the venue and up Taylor Street.
The queue ensured that almost no one with tickets at will call could make it inside to hear the opening band, Talkdemonic, whose set ended about 10 minutes after it was scheduled to start. (Accurate set times -- who needs 'em?) But the line did provide Modest Mouse fans with plenty of time to commune with the charming denizens of mid-Market, who noticed the influx of foreign pockets and moved in to harvest their spare change.
This was too bad, for the fans at least: The four and a half minutes we saw of Talkdemonic's set were intriguing: Instrumental art-hop built out of live drums and a violin. Moody, cinematic, subtle -- not exactly a natural pairing with Modest Mouse, but considering Brock helped mix this band's latest album, Ruins, not surprising, either.
When Modest Mouse went onstage about an hour later -- by which time the venue had finally filled up -- it took only two songs for Issac Brock to make a joke about the ridiculous barrier to entry: "So how was everyone's sight-seeing tour around the block?" he quipped. The crowd sorta laughed, but it was almost too soon: The line was long, and those Warfield security guards were mean.
It'd be great to say that watching Modest Mouse perform immediately erased our memory of the entry fiasco, that it eclipsed our other petty concerns, but it didn't. Modest Mouse is never quite as transcendent live as you want it to be, and while the band's set last night certainly hit a few high points, it also felt slow and unremarkable at times.
This drag seems to have little to do with Brock. He bellows and growls like a rabid bulldog, assaults the microphone so hard you think he's either going to pass out or cough his larynx up into the pit. He can be positively obnoxious onstage, a barrel-chested bully, but he was actually charming last night, stopping between songs to issue a little self-deprecating humor. He introduced the latest Apple gadget, the iBrock: "It drinks at your house for a little while, then it leaves, pissed off. It's fun!" he chirped. And whether shouting about death in "Satin in a Coffin" or navigating the warped lead guitar lines of "The Whale Song," Brock always seemed to be pouring everything he had into the performance.
The rest of the band played ably, sounding reasonably tight and well-mixed as the setlist moved through Modest Mouse's newer hits and a smattering of older tunes. (This band has too many good songs to fit into one show, but we were a little bummed it didn't play "Paper Thin Walls" or "Black Cadillacs.) Still, the proceedings felt like an average rock concert, and nothing more: Fiery singer, band dudes doing lots of things well and drawing little attention to themselves, some great songs, and some indulgent extended instrumental passages. There wasn't much onstage interaction between the musicians -- maybe because there wasn't room with two drum kits up there? -- so those lengthy squalls of guitar noise let the room's built-up energy dissipate.
But then again, the crowd last night was clearly of mixed motivations. A tech conference party night seems like a weird slot to put Modest Mouse in, considering the agitated gloom expressed in much of its music. And in the back of the theater, it often felt like the band was just obligatory entertainment at a big cocktail party: Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter. Oh, there's a band playing? Can I get your number? What did you think of that presentation?
Some people were really into the show, though, like the girl who started solo square-dancing during "King Rat" (by that time in the set there was room for it) and the obvious contingent of punk kids who flooded out afterwards, sweaty and grinning. Of course even those in the back nodded and bounced and muttered along to "Float On," and for those few minutes the show produced that electric connection between performer and crowd that makes for a proper concert. Maybe it was even worth the wait.
Amazing: During "Dashboard," one of the offstage crew threw a maraca in a perfect arc toward one of the drummers, who caught it, played with it during the chorus, and then tossed it back across the width of the stage, all while keeping up with the song. This throw-catch-throw-back thing happened at least twice during the song, and it seemed to elicit a quiet "aaahhh" from the crowd each time.
Random notebook dump: Is Isaac Brock the angriest man to ever wield a banjo?