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Concert Review: Modest Mouse with Future Islands at the ICON

Wait. Hold up. Are we doing this? We’re back? Like really back? We’re doing live music and big shows and crowded venues? Flashing lights and overpriced draught beers and leaning into a stranger‘s ear to yell that this is your favorite song because it reminds you of that time in college when you roof-dived into a pool at a party?

Huh. Well how about that. I guess we’re back.

I don’t know about you and your journey the past year and a half (feels more like 13), but I, for one, am thrilled to be back. For those of us who have been double- or even triple-vaccinated (thank you Pfizer, FDA, and a frontline job), it has been a long-overdue homecoming.

Now, for poetic effect, I’d like to say that this show marked my first time back to a concert post-pandemic, but that would be a lie. That honor belongs to the Mt. Joy and Trampled by Turtles show the week before, also at the ICON. That show was fantastic, as Trampled in particular never fails to disappoint live. However, the social environment and aforementioned draught beers were also fantastic and I’m not sure I could piece together a full review of that one for you.

But hey, we’re back. Let’s talk about Modest Mouse and Future Islands. First, a quick shoutout and apology to show opener Empath. As it was my first time going through the credentialing process at the shiny new ICON Music Center, there were the inevitable bumps in the road and I didn’t make it in until they were wrapping up the final song of their set. But they seemed to have pleased the folks that weren’t so late in arriving, and kudos for that.

Now I have to admit, I didn’t quite know what to think of Future Islands when they took the stage. I’m moderately familiar with their music, as it was impossible to be alive in 2014 and not hear “Seasons (Waiting On You),” but I haven’t developed a strong opinion of them either way. In my previous attempts to get into their music, my biggest complaint was that, to my ear, all their songs basically sounded the same. (Feel free to blast me in the comments.) But in spite of that sameness, Future Islands still presented quite a study in contrasts on stage.

Samuel Herring is a very dynamic, dare I say Shakespearean front man. The band behind him? Not so much. I’m not sure the self-described former art school kids behind the vocalist ever even shuffled their feet during the entire set. But that’s probably for the best, because Herring was all over the stage with dramatic flare, gesticulating, gyrating, and generally contorting himself in any way imaginable to convey his emotional connection to the music.

Herring himself was a bit of an enigma as well. You know his vocal signature from the hit single. And just like the band behind him, he is a consistent and talented live performer. But he adds a twist, peppering in the occasional death metal growl that would make Jinjer’s Tatiana Shmailyuk give an approving nod. The vocal trick certainly came as no shock to the Future Islands fans in the crowd, but for the rest of us casual observers, it was a fun surprise.

Far less surprising, but in no way disappointing, was the performance of headliner Modest Mouse. Now a veteran band of 29 years (holy shit, I’m old) the six-man group knew their roles and how to play them to the crowd. Not much in the way of theatrics — and how could you when nearly every member of the band is playing 2 or more instruments? — but just a solid musical performance that was the perfect blend of “true to the album” and “unique live touch.” I was particularly impressed with the guitar variation during “Float On” that had me wondering for half a second if they were going into a cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”

But overall, it was a hard-charging show that showcased the band’s upbeat indie rock side. We didn’t Blame it on the Tetons. The Ocean didn’t Breath Salty. I think the slowest song of the night was “Wooden Soldiers,” which came right before the break. The evening’s rendition of “Bury Me With It” had an absolutely massive sound and the crowd ate it up. Isaac Brock and company came out to have a great time, and they delivered with the goods.

The Golden Casket seems to be a breath of fresh air for Modest Mouse, and they unsurprisingly leaned heavily on the new album for the set list. Seven of the night’s twenty songs came from the new record and were largely well received. But make no mistake, this crowd turned out for the classics. The biggest ovation of the night came with the opening notes of “Missed the Boat,” the first tune they played off of 2007’s We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. The crowd responded and we never looked back.



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