Modest Mouse + Camper Van Beethoven

[15 July 2005]

By Lou Friedman

Modest Mouse
Camper Van Beethoven

There’s nothing like being in the middle of Central Park on a clear, comfortable night, hanging out in a sold-out Rumsey Playfield (the actual name of the place where Summerstage is located), geared up for an evening’s entertainment. Camper Van Beethoven just completed a 50-minute set, twisting various genres to meet an alt-country-rock theme, and as the night grew darker one of the most successful indie bands of 2004, Modest Mouse, took the stage with no introduction.

But something was not quite right—the look on band leader/singer/guitarist/banjoist Isaac Brock was a scowl. Why? Seems he was told before he took the stage that in this particular part of New York City, there was a limit as to how loud the band could play. He was also told the “decibel police” would be monitoring, just to make sure that he and the band stayed in range. Brock let the sold out crowd know about this before striking his first note of the night. He mentioned the scenario once more during the band’s 75-minute, 16-song set, but otherwise, not another word was spoken on the subject.

The winners in this scenario, believe it or not, were the members of the audience. Those who chose to concentrate on the action on stage (rather than constant stream of gab with friends), were rewarded above and beyond the usual. Translation: one of the tightest sets the Mouse has played live in quite a while. There was anger in Brock’s voice and singing, and more importantly, there was focus. It was as though if he wasn’t allowed to be loud, he was going to be SOMETHING—and that something turned into one of the year’s best performances.

The perfect opener for a pissed-off band was “Bury Me With It” from the monster album Good News For People Who Love Bad News. In fact, the band incorporated eight songs from the album into its set - half the show. Of course, “Float On” was done (fifth song in), but the back-to-back banjo-dominated “Satin in a Coffin” and “Bukowski” were also dominant parts of the set. But of course, there were songs the Mouse did BEFORE GNFPWLBN, and those who were into the Mouse from the get-go were rewarded with gems like “Breakthrough”, “Paper Thin Walls”, and the show closer, a nasty, chilling rendition of “Doin’ the Cockroach”.

The band was Army bunk-bed-made tight, and though there was looseness to the songs, it never veered into sloppiness. All in all, anytime you can see Brock restricted in some form or fashion, he unleashes in another way, usually to the benefit of his audience. Now is the time to see the Mouse—they’re at their highest level of stage shows at this point… metaphorically speaking, of course.

Opener Camper Van Beethoven reformed in 2002, after the various members drifted off to do their own thing. Led by the crazy, smarmy (in his between-song patter) David Lowery, the band played a fierce set, incorporating tunes from last year’s concept album New Roman Times with classic favorites—of course, the set closer was the audience sing-a-long, “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. Lowery did get a bit too pretentious in his monologue to the fans, but his voice was crisp and the band’s playing was sharp throughout. It would appear that they’re going to stick around for a while, and that’s a good thing. One suggestion: see them in a club as a headliner, because very few people on the Modest Mouse side of things in the crowd bothered to stop chatting and listen. If only the decibel police were around when you needed them.

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