When a band has many hit albums, with different sub-generations flocking to different efforts, their set will always leave some fans a little disappointed. That’s the nature of the game. For Modest Mouse, crafting a set list that reflects both what the audience wants and who they are as a band, seems like a daunting challenge. With a new album having debuted earlier this year—the up-and-down but oh-so-Modest-Mouse Strangers to Ourselves—the task of picking the right songs was even more pointed. A well-rounded approach was the result, with some recognizable songs not making the cut (think “Fire It Up” and “Paper Thin Walls”) in favour of tunes that were more true to the nature of the band.
After some brief technical difficulties—that seemed to pop up every now and again because that’s what happens when you have ten guitar changes—lead singer Brock Isaac and company rolled into a spine-chilling “The World at Large” just as the weather at the main stage was starting to drop. “Dark Side of the Universe” was next, with Brock ending the song by running off stage and grabbing a playing card marked with the 10 of Spades. Why? Anyone’s guess, but it sure got applause.
The first song from Strangers to Ourselves, “Lampshades on Fire” got a good reception, as did the under-appreciated “ Wicked Campaign”, which had Brock spitting out its conclusion. Overall though, nothing caught the attention of the crowd like the band’s hits. “Dashboard,” which featured an inspired use of the violin, and, “Float On” which got the arms of the crowd waving furiously, were two of the more popular entries. Darker efforts like “The Devil’s Workday”, “Night on the Sun”, and “The Whale Song” helped create a sinister atmosphere in the green lights of the main stage.
Near the end of the set, Brock took the mic to set the mood even further. “Every time I show up here, some brave person can’t get out of the ravine,” he snarled, referring to the picturesque Gorge behind him. “They're left just hanging out with the snakes in the ravine. Tasty, tasty snakes.” It created the perfect atmosphere for “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.”
The band walked off and genuinely had the crowd wondering if they’d come back for an encore. After what felt like an eternity but was probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of seven or eight minutes, Brock and friends walked back on, beers in hand, and finished off the performance with a downright filthy version of “The Ocean Breathes Salty” and a crooning “The Good Times are Killing Me.” It sent off a crowd that, if not fully satisfied with the song selection, was definitely impressed by the way those chosen were sung.