It’s not particularly often that Modest Mouse goes on tour, and even less often do they play a show longer than two hours. But Wednesday evening, fans who dished out $45 for the show at Vino Robles Amphitheater in Paso Robles experienced a spectacle.
The sun inched away from the amphitheater, its last reaches aimed at the stage. The cool, windy California night took its cue. From the woodwork, a crowd appeared: half were clean-shaven 30-somethings clutching wine glasses; half were bearded, punkish rockers contemplating a stop by the smoking section. Both halves readily anticipated the night.
To kick things off, five-piece Portland outfit Mimicking Birds entered the stage, complete with trendy haircuts. Green spotlights bathed the musicians’ outlines as their performance conjured images of a desert folk dreamscape. The lead guitar’s twang was distinct against the wall of sound comprising bass, drums and rhythm guitar — the resulting sound enveloped the audience without overwhelming it.
This created a perfect canvas for lead singer Nate Lacy to drag his melancholy, high-pitched voice across the performance. The sound was wave-like, continually building — but instead of eventually breaking, each song would recede and hypnotically start over. Winds tumbled about the onstage fog, furthering the effect. Mimicking Birds sucked in the audience for their eight-song set, but soon it was Modest Mouse’s turn.
The crowd took a 15-minute break from the entertainment to pee, smoke or refill a glass, all seemingly essential to ease the anxiety of the audience. Soon, the spacious amphitheater’s pit was cramped. And then they came.
Aside from the bassist’s cool haircut, the band’s slightly tight T-shirts and frontman Isaac Brock’s banjo, not much about the band’s image seemed rock-n-roll — but looks aren’t everything.
Because Modest Mouse doesn’t tour often and tickets were pricey enough to tempt only the band’s closest followers, a lackluster show would have been truly disappointing. However, when the band jumped into “King Rat,” the apprehensive audience released its breath in relief.
The band delivered. It turns out when you’ve been together for over 20 years, you know how to put on a show.
The set was epitomized during “Float On,” when Brock angrily strangled the guitar during his verses, as if the passion he spilled into his riffs still wasn’t enough to make the point. The two drummers had to be perfect to support the weight of sound five other instrumentalists aimed at the crowd.
For more than two hours, Modest Mouse played. They played old stuff and new stuff and stuff everyone could sing along to and stuff most people couldn’t. No stone — or album — was left unturned.
Brock seemed to be strumming away at more than just his guitar. The angst, passion and talent Brock holds was beyond evident in each motion. From the time he threw his cigarette to his feet and wiped his brow sweat with his guitar, it was clear he was here to make a mark.
“The Good Times Are Killing Me” rounded out the official set before the encore. For the song’s duration, everyone in the crowd was on the same team. They jumped together, had arms on each others’ shoulders and simultaneously felt the formula of Modest Mouse: Yeah, you have a chip on your shoulder and that thing sucks, but just keep on going.
After a brief hiatus, the band returned for an unbelievably energetic six-song encore, eradicating any remaining energy. I doubt anyone at that show had difficulty falling asleep that night.