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With a plain-Joe-gone-agro attitude, Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse rage against the McWorld

By David Espinoza

IT'S DIFFICULT TO PINPOINT exactly what a band like Modest Mouse is capable of. For a split second you want to believe these guys are the next Nirvana, that they are on the brink of something tremendous, but that would be a false prediction, not to mention an insult. Let's face it: Even as the band continues to sell out bigger and bigger venues (three nights in San Francisco last week), Modest Mouse stands little chance of smashing the existing walls of American rock in a big-hit, multimillion-album-selling way--it's just been done too many times. Still, there's an unspoken connection between frontman Isaac Brock's nihilistic rampages and Kurt Cobian's teen-you-know-what that makes Modest Mouse a prime candidate for the next messiahs of rock.

Performing to a sold-out crowd of mostly college-age folk at the Catalyst June 14, Modest Mouse fit the part of a humble band that can't afford to be humble for very much longer. Screams of "I love you, Isaac!" erupted from drunk men in touch with their sensitive side when Brock came on stage to check his guitar--a job usually left for roadies. But being the all-around plain guy (no visible tattoos, piercings, avant-garde or dyed hair, hip fashion or unhip-hip secondhand clothing store fashion) who just happens to go 180-degrees agro--spitting and shuddering on stage, ripping the strings off his guitar and screaming into the pickups--is what Brock is all about.

Trailer Parking

Dressed in simple if not downright drab attire and standing to the far right of the stage, just enough to throw everyone's balance off, Brock began an hour-and-a-half-long set with "Trailer Trash" from the band's 1997 landmark, The Lonesome Crowded West. From there, the band blasted into new material from Modest Mouse's latest, The Moon and Antarctica, though conspicuously leaving out some of their best tunes from the latter album, like "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" and "Convenient Parking."

Though no one will admit it, Modest Mouse is one of the few bands to really define the word "emo." The band's signature, needle-sharp harmonics hop-scotching between bursts of layered noise and simple three-chord progressions easily deserves its own nitch. It is a style that lacks the humor of indie bands like Pavement or the sweet melodies of Built to Spill. Instead, bands like Modest Mouse lash out at the dulling feeling that we're living in a generic McWorld where everything is the same, with no highs or lows. You can see it in Brock's lyrics, which obsess on the complete numbness and isolation modern American culture has to offer: "Short love with a long divorce, and a couple of kids of course, they don't mean anything" or "Let's all have another Orange Julius, thick syrup standing in lines, the malls are the soon-to-be ghost towns, well, so long, farewell, goodbye."

On a side note, openers Califone played a beautiful mix of Cowboy Junkies­meets­Neil Young guitar rock. The band's incorporation of a Wurlitzer electronic piano kept things interesting, as did the spacey guitar leads.

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From the June 21-28, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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