Modest Mouse Nail the Beat, but Lose Their Sloppy Sincerity

Modest Mouse Palladium Ballroom November 10

Better than: the person who did a karaoke version of "Float On" at the Double Wide after the show

A decade ago I counted Modest Mouse amongst my very favorite bands. Ten years, two full-lengths, a pair of EPs, and a handful of car commercials later the band's aura is strikingly different. No longer is the band content to get by on the drunken sounding off-kilter keys and tempos of their pre-Moon and Antarctica material, evolving from a three-piece into having as many as eight musicians on stage at any given time. The often out-of-time guitars have been dropped in favor of banjos, trumpets, keyboards and violins.

The melancholy of albums like The Lonesome Crowded West and Building Nothing Out of Something is still somewhat present, only it is noticeably more calculated these days. As the band performs now with two drummers, its sounds must be tighter and more preordained than the sloppy sincerity of yesteryear. Songs like "Custom Concern" and "Cowboy Dan" still sounded pretty great, but somehow lacked the free-form spontaneity of the band in its prime.

Upon walking in to the Palladium last night I instantly felt like David Wooderson from Dazed and Confused, 10 years removed from the last time I saw the band, but with a large percentage of the audience the age I was then. In other words, you could easily imagine lead singer Issac Brock nudging one of his bandmates and uttering the line "You know what I like about our fans? I get older, they stay the same age."

Only when I was digesting the show hours later did I finally pinpoint that what the band was lacking all these year was the drunken abandon of its youth. Sure, sobering up (somewhat) might have made Modest Mouse better persons, but it also made their music tighter and more predictable. And it does make sense; how far from the beat or melody can one really stray with eight musicians and two drummers? It's a bigger sound but one far less charming than the band's fans knew so many years ago.

Critic's Notebook Personal bias: The last time I saw Modest Mouse was when they played the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth almost 10 years to the day from last night. I never thought they'd still be around a decade later, much less playing a venue the size of the Palladium. It was literally the first show I've ever been to that made me feel old.

Random note: Violist Lisa Molinaro from opening band Talkdemonic joined Modest Mouse for several songs on strings and backup vocals, further adding to their big refined sound.

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