Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Shows

Padraic's tale: Modest Mouse, Clipse, Band of Horses -- Philly 8/19/07

It seems like a long time since Pete left for San Diego to pursue his dream of becoming a golf professional. He had worked the bar with me in Philly and met one of the waitresses. They were going to drive out west to try to start a new life together. Before he left, Pete gave me a lot of his old things, stuff he wouldn’t be able to pack or just didn’t want anymore: an old set of golf clubs, some Mad magazines, and a rusty wine key. He also gave me a homemade ‘box’ set of a band he tried (and failed) to get me to listen to for over two years. I had heard their tortured guitars and shouted lyrics over the bar sound system every Tuesday and Thursday night, but hadn’t come around to the band Pete claimed as having saved his life. “They get their name from Joyce, man,” he often said to get me to appreciate how serious they were. It seems funny now, but when he handed me the set of burnt CD’s inside of taped together loose-leaf paper, I wondered if I would ever open it. By that time I knew who Modest Mouse were and a few records weren’t going to change anything. I was wrong, and after a long time of occasional listening, the Mouse has become one of the most played bands on the old Media Monkey.

This was maybe four or five years ago, and Pete is probably 27 by now. At the time, he was by no means the only fan of the Mouse, but the group was still relatively obscure, playing on indie labels and certainly far away from breakthrough status. They were up to four or five studio albums, and chances for a mainstream breakthrough were unlikely. So what, really, could be the chance they would eventually headline an outdoor festival for $40 per ticket? Or have throngs of kids a decade younger than Pete shouting out anthem after anthem in the rain? I would have thought pretty low, but that was before I saw the new Mouse last Sunday at the Festival Pier in Philadelphia.

While there are plenty of the band’s fans who are Pete’s age or older, none of them (except, of course, me and my friend, Ben) seemed to be in attendance by the time Isaac and company reached the stage. The beer lines were almost empty the entire time, smoking cigarettes seemed to be frowned upon, and the crowd’s familiarity with the band’s older, jammier, work seemed non-existent; these were kids! Not to be the old fogey, but since when did kids stop drinking, or allow other kids to hold umbrellas in the audience? There were a few friendly pot smokers, but they seemed to be from out in the country somewhere.

While I would have liked to see a slightly more raucous atmosphere, the band did deliver a competent (if tame) set, getting the big hits (“Dashboard” and “Float On”) out of the way early, thankfully shutting up the constant chants. If there was any problem, it was the set skewed heavily towards the most recent (Moon and Antarctica on) rockers at the expense of the more sonically adventurous jams the band produced in the early days. While Brock and new guitarist Johnny Marr certainly have the chops to produce Coldplay- and U2-level rockers, the constant full-on tone left the band nowhere to go after hitting emotional peak after emotional peak (although the techno-y song from “We Were Dead” did break up the second half monotony of the show). I wouldn’t go as far to say that the Mouse has (Sean cringes) sold out, but the amount of commercial success has clearly changed the band’s musical style and motivations—how could they not play “Spitting Venom” or anything from “The Fruit that Ate Itself”)—I doubt Pete, or may of his generation of Mouse fans have seen them on this tour. If they did, I hope they were in the bathroom when the slow ballads came on and Isaac chanted, “That’s what I’m waiting for/That’s WHAT I’m waiting for/ That’s what I’m waiting for/always.” For their sake, I hope they were.

It’s possible some of my grumpiness from the Mouse show came from missing the majority of the set by opener Band of Horses, whose 2006 album, “Everything All the Time” is the best non-Hold Steady/White Stripes/Drive By Truckers rock album in years. Ben and I had assumed that showing up an hour after the first band was scheduled to take the stage would be enough time for both Love is Laughter and Clipse to finish, but the organizers decided to switch up the announced schedule and so we arrived just as the first notes of the “The Funeral” rang out over the Delaware River. Literally running to the gate, we caught the very end of the song, one tune from the new album, and a solidly shaking Ron Wood cover before the band left the stage. Bummer.

But, the good news was that this allowed us to see the entire performance by Clipse, which was fantastic. “Hell Hath No Fury” and “It Takes A Nation of Millions” are currently the only rap albums I have on the ipod, and the dudes from Clipse delivered an excellent performance of songs like “Mr. Me Too” and “Keys Open Door,” highlighted by guests appearances from local Philly rappers who at times upstaged the headliners. The show was thoroughly enjoyable, so long as I was able to ignore the derisive comments by unappreciative Mouse fans. I don’t really expect kids to dig every band in a show like this, but there was clearly a lot of energy and heart put into the Clipse performance, and they deserved a better response. One kid and his girlfriend were so obnoxious that I almost started a fight…until, that is, his girl passed me a joint during intermission! Maybe the kids are all right after all.

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Sean's Tale: Download Festival -- Mansfield, MA 8/18/07

The last time I saw Modest Mouse they were playing the middle set of the Unlimited Sunshine Tour, an outdoor summer festival that lasted about two years before collapsing. This goes back probably six or seven years ago. I think it was right after Moon & Antarctica. Flaming Lips were on that bill too, but they weren't the headliners. That honor went to Cake. If you were to ask me then (or now) what was a more preposterous idea: Cake headlining a tour above Modest Mouse and Flaming Lips or the Mouse headlining it's own similar tour? I would chose the first scenario. But that was a good time to catch them, many songs off of Lonesome Crowded West were played (most importantly I was able to hear Trucker's Atlas live so I would have been happy if they walked off stage after that). I take it Isaac didn't slice himself open with a pocket knife at this show, eh? I guess he got that out of his system at the beginning of the tour.

While I'll admit to a slight decline in rockitude on their last couple of releases, I still admire the venom that continues to be spit throughout these albums. Reminds me of my thoughts toward those who say John Waters has lost his edge. While there has been a decline in the quality of some of his movies lately, he still manages to put full frontal male nudity and Tracy Ullman picking up a water bottle with her vagina into movies relased by major studios. And with Waters you get the feeling that this sort of mainstream subversion was the point to begin with. In Mouse's case, they probably do find some enjoyment in that but it's most likely a simple matter of refreshing the game plan. Built to Spill progressed from punky 3 minutes singles to 10 minute jammers. Modest Mouse's progression has been something like that in reverse, so it doesn't mean it isn't what they want to be doing. And the addition of Marr to the group would seem to confirm that intention.

But I digress. The idea of free tickets to Mansfield, MA's branch of the Download Festival (DF) seemed like a nice present from the fine folks at Harpoon Brewery. Surely the thought did go through my mind, "Man, they must be having some problem filling the seats at this thing if they're giving away no-strings-attached-tickets via email." I'd been vaguely interested in the line-up, remembered the prices were a little on the steep side, put my name and email address into the Harpoon website and that was that. After all, it had been six or seven years since I'd seen Modest Mouse, was too tired to do more than listen to Band Of Horses from across the park at last year's Pitchfork Fest, and I'd liked Wolf Parade's album quite a bit, so why not.

Well, all those reasons combined couldn't allow me to stay at the DF for more than a couple hate soaked hours. Holy crap, what a cluster fuck! First thought was, thank the heavens I had free tickets to this thing and I didn't suffer a brain tumor for breakfast and actually throw away however many dollars it would cost to get into this horror show of a "music festival".

It seems someone out there at the Tweeter Center hates music and the people who come out to see live music in a fun atmosphere. I could feel this hate beating down on me from all sides as I sat at the back of a fucking parking lot looking at a sad group of kids surrounded on all sides by advertising booths (Volkswagen! **with cars parked in the middle of where the kids are supposed to stand** Nikon! **can I aggressively ask you to get your picture taken standing in front of a smattering of our logos while holding a tambourine?**) being played commercials while they stood around waiting for the next band to come on. Because that's all there is to do at the old DF -- stand around and be advertised at. At least, that's what the schedule was for the first 5 hours. Like I said, I didn't last long.

Having multiple stages at your festival is old hat. It makes sense -- it gives the kids options and/or allows for a staggering between the two so that one stage can prepare while the other is in action. At the DF, they do things a little differently. Why? I told you, they don't like you. At the DF they corral you in front of one stage (in a fucking parking lot!) for half the day (12-5) and then when they goddamn feel like it (5pm) they'll let you into the actual area you thought you were going in the first place. You know, the one with the seats and the grass, the nice big stage with the good sounds system -- the one that isn't a fucking parking lot that sounds like stirred lukewarm crappola.

Maybe two years of the Pitchfork Music Festival has spoiled me. With their $1 bottled water, $4 beers, good local restaurant food, entertaining crafty/music/art booths and overall lack of corporate advertising (not to mention that the average age at PF is upper 20s whereas the average age at the DF seemed to be 16) -- how could I not be completely offended by $4 water, $8 beer and horribly disgusting $10 sausage on a bun. Yeah, maybe it's just me, but after being able to withstand the utter sadness of my surroundings long enough to see Bang Camaro, I got the hell outta there. But I did get to marvel at the lead singer of Band of Horses beard on the way out. That thing is serious.

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Padraic's Final Thoughts:

Yeah, me and my scruff are a little jealous of Brad Bridwell, he is definitely making a run at Sam Beam for coolest looking indie guy.

After reading your review, I'm actually pretty pleased with my show. I would have been one of those idiots who was going to pay for the Download Festival, and I actually considered traveling from Philly to Boston to do it! I should have also mentioned that the Philly show was the same weekend as the Philadelphia Folk Festival, one of the all-time great festivals: bands I've never heard of from across the globe that blow you away, camping just steps from the stage, and all of the store-bought beer you can smuggle inside a cooler. And, for the most part, mature and appreciative crowds. While the Mouse may be "progressing" as you say to a tight, pop-hit, band (cool Dashboard rift aside, I don't like Marr's addition), they are likely going to be leaving us older folks at home. I think my days of Download Festivals and Festival piers maybe over, and I'll start to look more at things like Pitchfork and the PFF, looking for smaller bands, more intimate (and commercial free) gatherings.

This is two "big" shows in a row that have been relative disappointments (first: The White Stripes). While top-tier bands always give a solid performance, almost every great show I've seen in the past few years (Jens Lenkman, The Hold Steady, Dungen) has come in a smaller venue and featured a group I was unfamiliar with. I know people are usually unwilling to see something new, but I can't imagine the combined $90 spent on seeing Jack and Isaac wouldn't have been put to better use spread out over 10 shows at P.A.'s Lounge or The Middle East upstairs. The sound quality is usually superior, the band more willing to experiment, and, perhaps most importantly, at a bar show, everyone has to be at least 21.


[Sean: I like this one -- the shitty video serves it well]

1 comment:

Sean said...

Don't forget about Silver Jews -- that show was the balls.