What a difference 10 weeks can make. It seems like only yesterday that wet, bedraggled and knee deep in the Glastonbury mud, poor musicOMH had to make the heart-rending choice between staying inside our tent and crying, or venturing out in the rain to see Modest Mouse. Shelter or Johnny Marr? Shelter or Johnny Marr? It’s a tough life being a rock chick.
Fast forward to September, and not only do we have tickets to the lovely, warm, indoor Kentish Town Forum, which has a roof and everything, but we even have lovely padded seats. The only potential downer on the evening is the tube strike, but even that hasn’t got in the way too much.
In many ways, the Forum seems like Modest Mouse’s spiritual home. Once described as “the world’s indiest band” (and that was before they took The Smiths‘ guitar legend into their midst), they combine all the best elements of all the best bands from the last 30 years who would rather slit their skinny jeans than sell out to the mainstream. Two drummers, a frontman in Isaac Brock who shares a vocal style (and increasingly, a waistline) with Frank Black, and of course, our Johnny. So what if the rest of them are Yanks?
The advantage, of course, in having Mr Marr in tow is that there’s little point in not using him to full effect. Consequently, most of the set is comprised of material from after he joined the band in 2006 – heavy on tunes from their most recent offering We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. But there are smatterings of older material, at least going back as far as when they first took a more commercial direction.
The result, with keyboards, orchestral strings, accordions and more cycled in and out as and when necessary, is a strings-infused indie cacophony that, ironically, seems too big for the Forum’s stage, straining towards an arena or a festival’s open space. The sound is muddy, the vocals a little lost, and none of the seven-piece band is well enough defined in the mix.
It could ruin the evening, but somehow it manages not to. Brock’s voice is distinctive enough to carry them through, Marr is a god in tight trousers (particularly from the back when, silhouetted against the smoke, he could still be 20) and they have enough rebel spirit still to light up a fag on stage.
There’s something about their sound, even in its most accessible moments, that’s indie through and through. Maybe that’s why I can’t quite remember any of their song titles, or why I don’t really know which album they’re from, but I do know that I like them. And you know that they like being here, playing to this crowd, doing what they want to do and letting you take it or leave it. Their energy carries them through tonight even if the sound quality lets them down.
Outside, when it’s over, 18 year olds ask us what the set list was. There’s a feeling of guilt that I don’t know the songs they ask about and can’t tell them whether they were played or not. But that’s half of Modest Mouse’s charm.