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Tiny Cities Made of Ashes: Modest Mouse at SteelStacks

Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/
Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/

Off the beaten path for most, Bethlehem is a city that often seems to be living in the shadow of its industrial heritage. Reclaiming the post-industrial wasteland has been a task of herculean proportions, but the city is making the blight beautiful by converting it into art spaces and public amenities. In an interesting parallel, seminal indie rockers Modest Mouse played there for the second time in a row, escaping the shadow of their own post-grunge heritage — and proved that being flexible and willing to change allows them to draw diverse crowds more than 20 years after their founding. Continue reading →

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Modest Mouse forges through at SteelStacks in Bethlehem

Modest Mouse | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman
Modest Mouse | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman

It can’t be easy to be Isaac Brock. Seriously. Between band practice, the taxidermy and getting cut off during headlining one of the world’s largest festivals, the guy probably deals with his fair share of stress. Getting his own way during one of Modest Mouse’s rare smaller gigs, then, should only be fair. “Alright, I’m not playing that shit,” Brock muttered after not one, but two failed attempts to start bendy jam “Interstate 8” early in the evening’s set. Despite early slips, a mediocre-at-best mix, and other quirks, the seminal indie rockers still brought their level best to Wednesday night’s sold-out crowd in Bethlehem.

Modest Mouse | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman
Modest Mouse | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman

Festival circuit aside, Modest Mouse doesn’t get out very often. Whether that’s due to working on what is arguably the most anticipated indie album ever, or something else entirely, is debatable. But the SteelStacks show comes smack in the middle of their first true tour in several years. Hitting out of the way cities like Bethlehem, PA and Cooperstown, NY later this weekend, they’re picking and choosing their way through smaller venues than usual, making these shows a treat for concert-starved fans. Even though Brock wasn’t very talkative, and didn’t really seem to know or care what secondary city the band was playing in, the assembly of ecstatic fans didn’t seem to mind.

Modest Mouse being no strangers to the weird, it was almost fitting that just about everything about the gig was slightly off. From the aforementioned mix – ranging from quite muddy to utterly drowning Brock’s voice behind a wall of wailing guitars – to a beautiful and unique venue filled with fans who seemingly only wanted to hear “Float On”, the evening was still a great time, but in a strangely off-kilter way. The lack of their most noted song almost created a crisis at the very end of the encore, as the crowd refused to believe that the band simply wouldn’t play it. They didn’t, recently haven’t been, and frankly don’t need to. While catchy and fun, “Float On” is far, far from being one of their better songs.

Speaking of the setlist, it was jam-packed with the more obscure classics. The die-hard fans (don’t mistake my earlier sentiment, there were many loyalists in the crowd) were thrilled to hear the band drag out deep cuts like “The View”, and could be heard remarking how relieved they were that the band kept mostly to their older material. The three new songs premiered at Coachella 2013 – “Be Brave”, “Shit In Your Cut”, and “Sugar Boats” – all made appearances in the 20-song setlist. Wrapping up with the hugely pessimistic “Fly Trapped In A Jar”, Brock thanked the audience and jogged off the stage.

In the first ever ticketed show at Levitt Pavilion, the post-industrial-blight-turned-venue proved to be a success, and was the event was also the first in the new Yuengling Summer Concert series — slated to host indie darling duo Tegan & Sara next month. Settled beneath the towering blast furnaces of the Bethlehem Steel, the stage and its crowd proved to be the perfectly weird combination to welcome Modest Mouse to Bethlehem.