Photo credit: Courtney Campbell
Odds are if you were at Rams Head on Thursday you were there for Modest Mouse (Wiki), who are admittedly one of the best bands of our time. In fact, I was recently debating with a friend whether “Float On” might not be the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of indie rock–the song that really introduced the genre into the popular consciousness.
But knowing that frontman Isaac Brock previously worked as a talent scout for Sub Pop records and was actually the driving force behind their signing Iron & Wine and The Shins (surprisingly that honor dosen’t belong to Zach Braff) had me wondering what kind of bands the mighty Mouse would tour with. Mimicking Birds and Japanese Motors were both complete unknowns to me prior to this tour, so I went in with an open mind and not much else.
Japanese Motors took to the stage like a less crowd-hating/heroin-addled Brian Jonestown Massacre–singer Alex Knost even kind of looks like Anton Newcombe (but sounds more like Julian Casablancas at times). They managed the same kind of hippie-meets-Lou Reed vibe as BJTM and Knost managed some hipster onstage banter, which was a surprise given his publicized surfer-dude background.
These guys are all about detached, effortless four chord trips through the music of the 60s and 70, focused through a modern perspective. Definitive lyric: “It’s so hard to be a hippie when you’re dressed to kill.” They knew they were recreating old styles, occasionally making fun of their entrenched cliches, and were having a great time doing so. Knost was hopping around and getting into it, but his bandmates were fairly motionless, except for when the guitarist took his sweatshirt off after a couple songs. Props also go to the frontman for having the gall to put the guitar down and just sing on some songs. That seems like something that’s less and less popular to do, but it’s so much better than acting like you’re playing something when your guitar pickups are clearly turned down to the point that what you’re playing is virtually indistinguishable. Their new EP, Perception of Reality, is heating up thanks to the exposure they’re getting on this tour. I’d recommend it, especially if you like bands who knowingly look back at the past.
Mimicking Birds really got the crowd talking, and not in the good way. We actually cheered when they announced their last song, I think prompting them to not actually play their last song. I’d read about this band–really the onstage half of Nate Lacy’s solo project work–as though it was musical kin to Andrew Bird (not just because they both have “bird” in their name) when really it sounds like Dave Matthews on Quaaludes. My friend expressed disappointment when they first came out with acoustic guitars and coffee mugs, but I stayed optimistic. Three songs of the same muted, bedroom-recording boredom later, I was convinced of their awfulness. Perhaps in a coffeehouse, perhaps on a rainy day before falling asleep, I might like them, but not before the nervous blast of energy that was about to seethe from the upcoming Modest Mouse. The only thing convincing me this band had a pulse was the occasional flurry from the drums.
I’d noted back in the fall when I saw Built to Spill at Rams Head Live that the acoustics were lamentable. For these first two bands they held up pretty well, probably because none of the sounds were too processed or overdriven. So for quieter or simpler bands, the place actually holds up quite well. I was interested to see what would happen to the muscular, distorted sounds of Modest Mouse, who rely on rhythm far more than Built to Spill, but have similarly distorted guitars.
Unfortunately I had to wait an hour and a half for the band to come out. I don’t have any clue why. Maybe they were ruffled by our rejection of Mimicking Birds or maybe they were just demonstrating their Kanye West-icles, but all the guitars had been tuned, both drumsets were set up, and we waited and waited. And even when they came out Brock was pretty cranky. I guess I’m underestimating how much of a burden it must be to have people like your songs so much they shout them out as requests.
Musically, the dynamic changes could have been crisper but otherwise the venue has redeemed itself for me. Also I wasn’t down front for much of the show so maybe the acoustics are better in the back. Brock didn’t yelp quite as much as the last time I saw them, but they played competently, especially the synchronized drumming–that was really a treat. I’m kind of glad they didn’t play “Float On.” It’s a good song but I’ve heard it a million times. Setlist follows, Good Times heavy, but varied enough, and thankfully not a We Were Dead replay.
Never Ending Math Equation
Doin’ The Cockroach
Fire It Up
Wild Packs Of Family Dogs
Here It Comes
Guilty Cocker Spaniel
Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes
Life Like Weeds
This Devil’s Workday
Paper Thin Walls
Parting Of The Sensory
The Good Times Are Killing Me
Bury Me With It
Alone Down There
Blame It On The Tetons
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