Words and Photos: Mitch and Nick Nohner

Best Performance: Modest Mouse

The hushed nature noises that played before Modest Mouse took the stage late Sunday night created a stark contrast to the theatrical entrance made by the Flaming Lip’s just a little more than an hour before. That disparity continued throughout the set, as Isaac Brock and company displayed that no amount of confetti or costumed dancers could match music played from the heart in its ability to engage an audience. The Seattleite indie legends plowed through a varied set list consisting of songs from every stage of their career, attacking each piece with an animalistic ferocity that would seem unsustainable but managed to last all the way to the encore.

Opener “Shit Luck” set the tone for the night with Brock’s primal screams separating sections of screeching guitars and smashing drums, punching life into the guts of all those in attendance. Giving the crowd a brief respite with “Gravity Rides Everything” before transforming their sways into bounces with “Dashboard”, the band continued this pattern, switching between old and new material for the remainder of the night and keeping all demographics – from the casual listener to the die-hard fan – interested throughout the performance. In order to accommodate the musical variances that accompany such a far-reaching set list, Modest Mouse would increase or decrease its size, featuring up to seven musicians on stage, and also cycled through a multitude of instruments including an upright bass, accordion and several horns. The show would have required more performers if not for multi-instrumentalist Tom Peloso, who skillfully switched between string and brass instruments. Peloso’s immense talent was certainly not the exception, as each member adeptly contributing to help create the band’s unique sound. Particularly entertaining were the dual-drummers, Jeremiah Green and Joe Plummer, who would sometimes perfectly mimic each others movements, doubling the same beat, and at other times play complementing parts in a whirlwind of arms and sticks – expertly staying in perfect time with each other and the rest of the band.

Dressed in a plain t-shirt and jeans and taking several breaks to drag upon his cigarette or pull from his drink, Brock’s blue-collar aesthetics seemed well suited to his gruff voice and down-and-out lyrics. Banter admitting that he doesn’t like “talking to a bunch of people as if they were one person” was kept to a minimum, but in those few brief interludes Brock’s relaxed and approachable attitude shone through as he talked about his favorite trait of the rattlesnake (it’s taste) and encouraged the audience to relax and recognize the beauty that surrounded them. Undoubtedly though, he is at his most comfortable on stage when playing, dynamically transitioning between drill sergeant-esque barks to softer tones, or at least as soft as his naturally raspy voice would allow. At other times, Brock would merely let his guitar do the communicating for him, joining in with the rest of his bandmates as the songs rose to crescendoing climaxes.

It was in those raucous interpretations that Modest Mouse really hit their stride, pumping out a steady stream of high-energy hits from every era in their history and proving in a dramatic manner that, just as a master chef does not get too entangled in the garnishes, neither should a band become too reliant on flashy light show or onstage antics that it detracts from the meat and potatoes of the show: a passion so deep for the music that it bleeds out of every guitar strum, horn blast and drum hit, leaving the audience fully satiated and completely content.

Best Performance Runner-Up: Fitz and The Tantrums

Riding the recent soul revival, Fitz and The Tantrums played a lively set that woke up the early crowds who, with varying amounts of success, did their best to dance along. Dressed in a dapper red suit, Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick led his band through the majority of their album Pickin’ Up the Pieces. Gladly accepting the responsibilities expected from the lead singer of a soul band, Fitzpatrick incorporated sassy dance moves into a passionate vocal performance that often left every vein in his face and neck strained from the effort. When not actively participating, he helped draw the crowd’s attention to his backing band, windmilling his arms in time to the drum fills, lending a third and fourth hand to keyboardist John Wicks or gyrating next to Jeremy Ruzumna during his soulful saxophone solos. The largest proportion of his interactions centered on back-up singer Noelle Scaggs. Sporting a black, feathered dress, she provided the perfect female foil for him to play off while singing his songs about love gone bad. Often acting like a hype-woman as much as a singer, she incited the crowd to clap along on nearly every track, making sure that everyone in the amphitheater was participating.

This emphasis on crowd participation was a key point of their performance. Between Scaggs and Fitz, the audience was implored to join in the act– be it by simply clapping or singing along (such as providing the “Hey” and “Huh’s” of “Dear Mr. President”) – during each track. After months of touring, these built-in requests held the interest of an audience largely only familiar with their hit “MoneyGrabber”. By keeping the crowd actively involved throughout the show and smartly including a funky cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”, the band prevented anyone in attendance from becoming too listless. This is not to say the band puts on a boring show, far from it in fact, but it did seem as if they were not entirely used to playing to a crowd that knew all of their music. Scaggs did seem pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response to her question, “How many of you have heard of us before?”

Saving their best for last, the band rocked through “MoneyGrabber” as Fitzpatrick ordered the vocal audience to crouch down and slowly whisper along as the band slowly built momentum into the final chorus, causing chaotic dancing to erupt throughout the venue – a great ending to a fun show that clearly showcased the strong emotional response the band is capable of producing. Building off a strong foundation of catchy pop-soul songs, a dynamic front man and great overall chemistry, Fitz and the Tantrum’s live show did not disappoint, and, with growing exposure, is sure to only improve as the direct relationship between the audience and the band’s energy and excitement becomes even further pronounced.

Best Surprise: Other Lives

Trying to fill time between performances by Fitz and the Tantrums and Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, I blindly walked over to the festival’s smallest stage to see Other Lives, a band about which I knew next to nothing. This spur of the moment decision proved to be one of the best of the weekend for me. This five piece band from Stillwater, Oklahoma craft dark and brooding orchestral-folk songs heavily tinged by Spaghetti Western influences that invite listeners to come and get lost in their ominous sound. If they were indeed able “to control the weather,” as one of their lyrics claims, then black clouds and heavy fogs would never have left the forecast. Their somber soundscapes came to fruition through complex arrangements that required every band member to stray from his primary instrument multiple times throughout the set: the drummer also played the oboe, the violinist the trumpet and xylophone, the cellist a set of antlers covered in sleigh bells. Singer Jesse Tabish skillfully managed to find the right niche for his vocals within the songs, carefully layering them amongst the beautiful instrumentals without detracting from the overall sound.

The end results were epic, as each note acted like a drop of water evaporating into the air and accumulated to create atmospheres of noise that would continue to grow in size throughout each song before reaching its critical mass, at which point the band would either simultaneously break into a hard-hitting conclusion – like a heavy rain after a thunder boom – or merely allow it to slowly dissipate. The only disappointment of the show was that more people were not in attendance to witness it. But if their set were any evidence of what they are capable, it will not be too long before the band begins playing to larger crowds and enchants the masses to wander in their Sepia-toned world.


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Comments ( 1 Comment )

Cool pics. Particularly the one of the stage from far away.

Ainsley added these pithy words on Jun 03 11 at 12:10 am

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