Review: Modest Mouse Brings ‘Golden Casket’ to Life at Theatre at Ace Hotel

Modest Mouse - Courtesy of North Whitaker @NorthStormW

By AVA LIVERSIDGE

Modest Mouse made their ambitious return to music last June with The Golden Casket, a trip into the disorienting and seamy world of the former indie rock darlings. The other night, the outfit brought the record to life at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

Frontman Isaac Brock’s casual onstage demeanor clashed with the eerie disquiet that permeates their seventh studio album.

True to most Modest Mouse records, The Golden Casket has lofty instrumental goals and a cluttered sonic scape that works to lay the foundation for Brock’s terse vocal delivery. However, unlike most of MM’s works, their latest was the product of a years-long creative process, one in which ideas stewed and percolated, instrumentals were layered, and tracks grew over time.

The band’s first three records are experimental but were made in rapid succession, but by comparison, Modest Mouse seemed to have learned the process of tinkering and trial. The Golden Casket most nearly reads as a philippic against modern technology, the social stratosphere it has created, and the pitfalls of a disconnected people.

All that was left to see was how the band would successfully translate this sprawling recording into a live performance.

Modest Mouse at Ace Hotel video courtesy of Darren Zimmet:

While the show at the Ace never spiraled into a tirade against social media, Brock’s frantic energy still fueled much of his performance. He delivered a choppy, sometimes harsh vocal cadence that bathed in a long drawl of psychedelia — an instrumental result of the long-simmering recording process.

The record’s instrumental complexities were on display long before Modest Mouse started their first song. A banjo, melodica, viola, tuba, trumpet, pedal steel, and soda-can-constructed drum kit, among other things, were hauled onstage as the audience sat through quite the lengthy sound check. In fact, the concert-goers seated behind me mused over how many members must be in the band with that many “gadgets.” 

As it turns out, the six members of MM were able to handle all instrumental oddities themselves, providing for dynamic, occasionally obtrusive live cuts of songs whose experimentalism may not have been at the forefront of the studio mix. 

The entire show felt very familiar as the band launched into a heartfelt take of “Cowboy Dan” upon a concert-goer’s request, indulged themselves in their esoteric instruments of choice, and played their ever-popular “Float On.” 

But, as is customary of Modest Mouse and their circumspect frontman, an air of lament and uncertainty always lingered. There were frustrated take-twos and lyrics bellowed out instead of sung. Brock bemoaned, “One of these days I’ll be good at this,” as he peered down at his multi-colored guitar before launching into a particularly rambunctious, and evening-defining, version of “Night on the Sun.”

Modest Mouse aimed high for the group’s sonic possibilities on The Golden Casket, and despite the night’s more self-indulgent, saturated moments, MM largely delivered an engaging live performance around a  grandiose project that is in many ways, a far cry from their crafty indie-rock roots.