Modest Mouse played this Monday to an unusually intimate, but highly enthusiastic audience with guest Gene Ween at the Steelstacks in Bethlehem, PA; a newer venue with an impressive industrial lineage dating back to the mid-1800’s. Once the Bethlehem steel plant, the second largest steel-producing mill in the nation, the industrial complex reopened in 2011 as a series of venues for arts and entertainment spread out over ten acres. The vibe of which echoes America’s industrial past with monolithic steel-producing structures, while also looking hopefully towards the future as the campus evolves into a revitalizing system for northeastern Pennsylvania’s economy. This past and present dichotomy provided an especially relevant backdrop for the show, for as vital as this setting was to communities past, so has Modest Mouse established themselves as an unyielding pillar of the indie-rock community.
Modest Mouse is a band with a catalogue of albums as diverse in sound as they are distinctively identifiable, yet in the midst of a national tour for their new album, “Strangers to Ourselves”, released in March of this year, the band seems to have reached a question mark in their career. Critics of their long awaited sixth studio LP often mention how it sounds exactly as one would expect a Modest Mouse album to sound, which, for a band that thrives on striving to constantly refine and redefine their sound, sends a confusing signal to fans who seemed to be expecting them to explore some new themes. As of this latest tour, only a quarter of their six most recent set lists showcase tracks from their new album, mostly repeating staples such as the single “Lampshades on Fire”. Monday’s show was no different as they seemed to rely heavily on fan favorites such as “Gravity Rides Everything”, while performing five songs from their latest album out of a twenty-one-song set.
The show itself was a far cry from being the kind of disappointment some have said heralded their latest album. Modest Mouse are the definition of professional musicians, playing with passion and articulation, especially for a Monday night show. Rather than applauding the old-school for turning up their noses, perhaps this stage in their career offers younger listeners the unique opportunity of accessibility, the chance to experience essentially a living legend in indie rock who, despite shake ups and an uncertain road over the past seven years, have managed to put together a solid work of music.