Modest Mouse, United Palace Theater, 4.29.07
By Charlotte Deaver
This show was over a week ago, so I'll cut right to it. I'd usually never see a band in a venue with seating, but damn, it was Modest Mouse! And my seat was smack in the middle of the theater, 1st row, lowest loge.
But as it turned out, the decisive drawback to the show was, in fact, the venue, the United Palace Theater. Its vast stage would be great for a Broadway show, but for rock and roll? The band sets up over ten feet deep into the stage, and then ten more feet of space are cordoned off with police gates. And, the stage is dotted with bouncers! Huh?
From where I was perched (albiet quite comfortably in my prime balcony seat, phone, notebook and pens all spread out in front me, feet up) the sound, sadly, was muffled, muddy, not crisp at all. And Modest Mouse is a crisp band: those guitars! I get a little weak in the knees just thinking about them. and now that Johnny Marr is along for the ride, we were in for quite a guitar-happy treat.
But noooo. I see live music to experience the energy, to get it under my skin, to move my body and feel like I'm right in the middle of it, of life.
This, instead, was spectacle: disengaged, impersonal, a distant, 3rd-person perspective.
I couldn't even tell what kind of guitar Isaac Brock plays (and I really, really wanted to know)! It looked like a Gibson SG, which would make sense, since he has to get so high up on the neck for those atmospheric, wavery, smooth-toned and incidental (sometimes) hammer-on-and-off riffs that make his sound so distinctive.
Nor could I distinquish Isaac's lisp, another, I argue, contributing texture to the Modest Mouse sound. And that made me sad.
Mid-set Isaac left the stage for awhile, and Johnny Marr took over, entering into a very sexy, pulsing, extended groove which slowly became distinguishable as "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes." That was by far the highlight of the evening, as Isaac reappeared and ripped the shit out of the song for at least ten minutes. Anthemic, yes, but finally the crowd got "close."
Other live versions I liked: "Edit the Sad Part," "Florida," "We Have Our Habitat," "Ocean Breathes Salty," and the evening's encores, "Fly Trapped in a Jar" and "Spitting Venom."
The theater is indeed spectacular, though: gorgeously decayed, ornate, old-world, the kind of place that seems destined for a tear-down were it not all the way up in a part of Washington Heights that has yet to be gentrified. Very cool space in that way. If having popular indie bands play there helps keep it standing, I'm all for it. But I won't be spending anymore money to sit there.