Of all the alternative / indie rock bands who had hit singles catapult them into household names among alt and indie circles in the mid-2000s, one of the more interesting storylines to follow is that of Portland’s Modest Mouse. The indie rockers originally formed just outside of Seattle, Washington, in nearby Issaquah, some twenty-six years ago. Since then, they’ve released six full-lengths, six EP’s, and countless singles, including the one for which they are most well-known. Even to this day, some fourteen years after its release, “Float On” is still heard on alternative radio airwaves from time to time. Aside from having written the instantly recognizable alt smash, Isaac Brock and company have piled up quite the devout fanbase over time, enough to where they’re still playing mid-sized auditoriums across the country. One such spot was the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington, where the massive collective brought their impressive live show to Hoosiers from all walks of life last month.
The indie rockers touched on all six of their full-lengths, in addition to hitting selections from two of six EP’s as well, leaving fans both new and old walking away satisfied, for the most part. I chatted with members from both divisions of this “fandom,” including one individual who summed up Modest Mouse’s fanbase rather perfectly, which I am of course paraphrasing to the best of my memory: “there aren’t very many folks who listen to both old-school and new-school Modest Mouse—you’re either a fan of the old stuff or you’re more of a new fan, and whichever one you are, you don’t really know any tunes from the band’s ‘other’ era.” As someone who appreciates the classic Modest Mouse but who also just started listening to them a few years back (right around the time of 2015’s Strangers to Ourselves), this was an assessment that really resonated with me during their live set. My own limitations to my knowledge of their set (read: the fact that I only recognized roughly half of the songs they chose to perform) seems due in part to this intriguing dichotomy, which had never occurred to me until it was explained to me before the band took the stage that evening. Nevertheless, the mega band kept things fun and entertaining, pulling out hit singles like “Dashboard” and “Lampshades On Fire,” in addition to breaking out some deep cuts that are rarely played, like “King Rat” and “Guilty Cocker Spaniels,” the latter of which saw its first audience since 2015.
Modest Mouse struck me as the type of artist who never plays the same set two nights in a row, and sure enough, when I checked data after the fact, my greatest suspicions were confirmed, forming a deeper, newfound respect for the band as a whole. Another aspect of Modest Mouse’s performance that I considered very impressive (and certainly incredibly memorable as well) was the fact that the band didn’t bother to feed the hype machine with a “proper encore.” Instead, frontman Isaac Brock, who had been uttering witty comments all evening, told the audience that he and the band were simply going to “take a break and walk off stage for a bit, and then come back and play some more songs.” Sure enough, that’s exactly what they did, leaving for good after playing through four more tunes, including their staple hit “Float On.” In a day and age where gimmicks and hype sell everything, I really appreciated how Brock and company shot it straight rather than playing into some sort of “hype game.” They couldn’t be bothered with any of that hype and instead wanted to just play a damn rock show—commendable really. And play a damn rock show is exactly what they did. Modest Mouse’s live performance was exactly what I expected it to be, leaving me neither disappointed nor blown away, just glad at the end of the night that I went, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this sentiment.