Review: Modest Mouse at Brown County Arena, 9/19/18


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Per Isaac Brock’s banter, he was once gifted one of these.

With apologies to Duluth and LaCrosse, Modest Mouse was great in GB last night! I regretted missing James Leg in Appleton (he’s playing in Green Bay tonight if you did, too [I’ll be filming LFSD and can’t attend]), though I’ve seen him maybe 5 times, and had only seen Modest Mouse once.

MM were hands-down my favorite band when I was a moody 15-year-old. I listened exclusively to their 1996-2001 catalog for a year straight—it was just all I wanted to hear. I fell for rock’n’roll and lost interest in indie rock by the time “Float On” became a surprise mega-hit, and never bought the “Good News…” album, but they earned success and even if I was detached I was happy for them. I did get to see them in ’04, but it was in the horrible echo chamber of Milwaukee’s Eagles Ballroom and I wasn’t not un-sober, so it wasn’t terribly memorable.

Since then I may not have listened to MM at all, not that I grew to dislike or disown them, more that falling down the rock’n’roll rabbit hole was a capital P- capital S- Paradigm Shift for me and other than Pixies and Weezer I didn’t do much looking back.

Sure did last night, though. I wound up going solo, obligated not only to my former passionate fandom, but to the venue itself, as this concert’s slated to be the last event to be held at the good ol’ Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, where as a pup I’d attended countless UWGB basketball games, my first Bob Dylan concert, a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert, and a WWF house show, among other events.

Before I went I had to drop fliers at Frets for the Black Pussy/Muddy Udders show and was running about 15 minutes late, but not sweating it, nor even listening to MM to get pumped. I planned on parking not-close/for free and hoofing it, meaning I’d miss at least the first 20 minutes. Once in my life I would’ve driven 10 hours to see this band, and here I couldn’t even be on time for their concert in my city. Part of my delay was strategic, though, to check for confirmation the show was even happening—after last-minute canceling the previous two nights’ concerts there was good reason to doubt whether this $30 show would go on.

Pulling onto Oneida it didn’t appear anyone was charging for parking across the street at Lambeau Field, so Good News #1: parking close, for free!

I scuttled through the light rain to a box office area dead and shut down. The security/ticket collectors seemed confused to see me arrive so late, but I spotted someone in the dark behind the glass window. I asked for a ticket, and she gave me one. GAVE. No. Charge. WOW!! Good News #2: free entry! When does that happen?! Surely this was out of pity, as I’d missed half the show.

…But inside, there’s only this quiet disco music playing. My goodness: they hadn’t even started yet! Good News #3 (with apologies to the opening act): great timing!

Show notes:

  • About two minutes after I got there they opened with this! I wondered if the unexcited fans thought it was a new song they hadn’t heard, and in general, what the band’s setlist debate is like when it comes to older vs. newer material. Isaac botched the middle guitar part badly, which he’d later apologize for, but at the time I wondered if it meant we were in for a messy one, especially in light of his recent enigmatic cancellations.
  • The crowd was pretty stiff, but there were definitely some fun people up front. (During the wait for the encore they were yelling and singing anything from “November Rain” to the ditty from “Great White North”.)
  • “Cowboy Dan” was huge and awesome.
  • “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” was truly bonkers. Real highlight.
  • When they came back for the encore a nearby fan yelled “Don’t play ‘Float On’!” Not that you’d get to choose, but wouldn’t it be weird if your first/by-far-biggest song was an anthem?
  • It was wild to share this experience with several hundred others, as this was a band that was pretty personal to me when I was younger and was selective of who I’d even “show” their music to.
  • Whatever song they played to start their encore was real cool. If you know it, please let me know, but I’m thinking it could be a new one.
  • There was an unexpected mix of uptight hipsters and too-loose hippies, which is to say I expected the former, but when did hippies get into MM? Guess I missed that, and was a little shocked as I realized how many people there were messed up but not drunk, if you catch me. Kinda cool, though—perhaps Brock’s lyrics will help break their former dispostion to jibbooing.
  • I  hadn’t been in the arena in at least 15 years, so it seemed way smaller than it used to. At one point I walked through the concession area where in sixth grade I punched a kid for telling me I looked “like [the brothers in the band] Hanson.” Ah, memories.
  • No “Dramamine” or “Truckers Atlas”, but they couldn’t play ’em all. I was grateful for all the older tunes, and without really knowing the post-2001 material (jeez that’s a while ago) I still enjoyed the way it came off live. In my checking for updates on whether the band had canceled, I found a number of tweets disparaging their recent live performances, so maybe I just caught them on a particularly great night. Or, a band this eccentric was just never meant for the masses.
  • It felt like we got a unique performance on account of it being a smaller crowd, and because it was infused with whatever weird energy/gravity they carried from the previous nights’ cancellations.

It was confusing, it wasn’t particularly well attended (though I really can’t think of a GB venue that would’ve made more sense—Distillery/Badger State/Backstage at Meyer would’ve been too small, and the arena would’ve been next biggest, it’s just too sizable a step up), but whatever it was I’m grateful it happened and glad I went. If that mystery song I dug is indeed new material, it all unexpectedly adds to my renewed interest in the group. Isaac is still a profound dude who nowadays must be as confident in his weirdness as he is bored by it, and though I took a ~15-year break it turns out I still want to hear what he has to say.

Hello again, Modest Mouse fandom, and bye-bye, Brown County Arena.


UPDATE: The song that was new to me was “Sugar Boats”, off 2015 album “Strangers to Ourselves”: