In between songs from “The Lonesome Crowded West,” Isaac Brock noticed a man in the Seattle crowd wearing a Pendleton shirt. The Modest Mouse frontman noted he used to wear them himself — some years and pounds ago. It’s an experience and sentiment shared by many of the now 30-something and holding fans at shows commemorating the 25th anniversary of the indie-rock stalwarts’ breakthrough album.
In 1997, when the world didn’t make sense and/or you didn’t make sense in the world, “The Lonesome Crowded West” was there to comfort and ease your angst and confusion. During a Monday night show at Seattle’s Showbox, it was there again like an old, aging friend. We’re all a little heavier with a little less hair and a little less pep in our step perhaps, but we’re still turning to Modest Mouse to ease our malaise and disconnect with the world at large.
The Monday show was the opener for a three-night stay in the Emerald City as part of the 25th anniversary tour for Modest Mouse’s seminal “The Lonesome Crowded West.” The tour officially kicked off in Missoula, Montana earlier this month and wraps up in New York City at Terminal 5 on Dec. 17. Originally released by Ugly Casanova and Up Records in 1997, “The Lonesome Crowded West” was the Washington-based indie-rock band’s fourth album and largely considered by fans — including this one— to be one of their best.
Opening the show was Portland-based Rex Marshall, who goes by the stage name Mattress, and has stood in as an opener for Modest Mouse in the past, as well. Mattress is a one-man show but brings enough presence and style that one-man is all he needs. Donning an all-gold suit and performing what he defines as future-lounge music, Mattress weaves in and out of singing and spoken word-like lyrics, all backed by his own synthesized beats. Mattress has his 2016 album “Looking For My People,” released through Brock’s own Glacial Pace record label, and I think it’s more than fair to suggest Mattress found his people on Monday night as tracks from his 2022 “FUBAR” album, along with humorous banter and non-sequitur refrains were well received by a crowd that was by and large there solely for the main event.
And what a main event it was; for a fan who’s been faithfully attending Modest Mouse shows since the early 2000s and has watched the band’s lineup (and waistlines) slowly expand, it was nothing short of exhilarating to see a return to a four-piece. Founding members Brock and drummer Jeremiah Green were joined by newest bassist Russell Higbee and Simon O’Connor on additional guitar.
The band took to the stage and wasted no time with introductions, launching right into the album’s opening track “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine,” immediately sending the sold out crowd into an all-time nostalgic frenzy. The set followed the exact order of the album’s tracklist, which shouldn’t come as a surprise for an anniversary show, but still I couldn’t contain a gleeful familiarity from junior high when it felt like playing the album in order start to finish was almost like some kind of secret coded message that only the truest of fans could decipher.
In a 2012 interview with Pitchfork, Brock discussed, in depth, the emotion around creating “The Lonesome Crowded West,” discouraging feelings about the “paving of the west” by strip malls. Brock said he witnessed the urban sprawl firsthand through growing up in Washington between Issaquah and Seattle. And while that trend can still be seen and felt today all throughout the country, “The Lonesome Crowded West” serves as a friendly reminder of a time when our loathsome collective thoughts toward suburbia were pinned down into song form, almost like tiny little time machines that when played transport you back to a youthful time when saying something felt like it still mattered.
Brock, now 47, can’t belt out his signature screams quite like he used to, but when you’ve got a crowd of over a thousand people screaming the lyrics on your behalf, it doesn’t make much difference, especially when the music itself is still on point. Original bassist Eric Judy departed the band in 2011, but Higbee does a great job of picking up where Judy left off, and with O’Connor providing backup on guitar, it allowed a lot of room for Brock and Green to stay true to the source material, like they were kids again chain smoking in a van between gigs with big dreams, road maps and handmade fliers.
It feels a bit like a scene from “Sophie’s Choice” when trying to pick a favorite song off the album, but I can at least say that I was especially looking forward to “Trailer Trash,” merely for the fact that I’ve always felt as though the song echoed my own upbringing, shouting regrettable hateful remarks at family members from trailer park driveways. I’m pleased to say the song didn’t disappoint and, in fact, was even updated with an outro of “Perpetual Motion Machine” off of the band’s 2009 EP “No One’s First, and You’re Next.”
After wrapping the show up with “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright,” there was a degree of uncertainty rippling throughout the crowd about whether an encore was coming. The audience cycled through various chants before the band finally returned to the stage. Brock apologized for the delay, explaining that he was looking for a dry shirt and when he couldn’t get his hands on a Mattress shirt from the merch table, he had to resort to wearing a Modest Mouse shirt, stating he was wearing it inside out as to avoid appearing vain, always the modest performer.
The encore consisted of “A Life of Arctic Sounds,” “Edit the Sad Parts,” and “Interstate 8,” two of which are among my personal favorites. And as I exhaustedly sat on the back steps of the venue watching my 9-year-old daughter dance to songs she only knows from hearing them played religiously in and post-utero, I couldn’t help but ultimately feel grateful — grateful to a band for existing, grateful for that band creating an album, grateful for this moment in time and grateful to an editor for letting me be there. Twenty-five years is a long time for someone with nothing to think about, but after Monday night’s unforgettable performance, all in attendance now have food for thought until we get to do it all again at the 50th anniversary. Until then.
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at firstname.lastname@example.org.