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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.

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A resurrected Rocket From the Crypt bring high energy to a sweaty Underground Arts

Rocket From the Crypt | Photo by Pete Troshak |
Rocket From the Crypt | Photo by Pete Troshak |

San Diego’s Rocket From The Crypt proved they were back from the dead last week, rocking a sweaty, aggressive packed house at Underground Arts. The group disbanded in 2005 after fifteen years and seven guitar-and-horn-fueled punk albums together, including the classic Scream, Dracula, Scream! in 1995. The band was also known for saying that anyone that got a Rocket From The Crypt tattoo would be admitted to any show by the band for free. They reunited under the most bizarre circumstances, due to a children’s TV show. Singer John “Speedo” Reis is a recurring character on Yo Gabba Gabba called “The Swami” and the band reunited to play on an episode in 2011. One thing led to another and the band has since played some dates and a handful of festivals, sticking to their old material while being warmly received by fans that never expected to see them together again.

Timothy Olyphant look-alike Dan Sartain opened, delivering a memorable forty minute rapid fire set of his rumbling rockabilly punk rock. Joined by just a drummer, Sartain sweated and bashed out chords on his battle-worn Silvertone hollowbody guitar. The Ramones influence is obvious in his music and fittingly he kickstarted most songs with a hearty 1-2-3-4 countdown. The crowd seemed very familiar with his material, and sang along frequently. Sartain seemed to really appreciate the crowd’s reaction, and proved he was one of them by showing off an old Rocket From The Crypt tattoo on his upper right arm. Sartain has a new album called Dudesblood due out soon.

After Sartain’s set ended there was a forty five minute wait for Rocket From The Crypt to take the stage, which led to some grumbling in the sell-out crowd. All was forgiven when the band hit the stage and ignited the crowd with a trio of songs from their ‘95 EP The State of Art is on Fire – “Light Me,” “A+ In Arson Class” and “Rid Or Ride.” What followed was an intense twenty-plus song set spanning their career with neither the band nor crowd taking their foot off the gas pedal till the end. The six piece band barely fit on the small stage and the crowd was even packed around the open sides of the stage, giving the show a claustrophobic but exciting vibe. The crowd cheered and smiled throughout, regularly surging forward to get closer to the band. The highlight of the night was a swaggering blitz through the first three songs from Scream, Dracula, Scream! – “Middle,” “Born in ‘69” and “Rope”.that sent the crowd into a sweaty, moshing, roaring frenzy. The band’s performance spoke louder than words, and it said that this is a band that is still powerful and that can have a future to add to their past success. Here’s hoping that they stay together and make more music.