This year, the Friday night that traditionally marks the unofficial first day of summer, the Friday night of Memorial Day Weekend, also marked the first show of the season at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, with Modest Mouse’s first of two sold out shows. The promoter of the event, Dan Smalls, came out on stage just before the opening band to offer up a toast to the crowd for the new season, and took the opportunity to announce several performers who will be making appearances at Ommegang later in the summer, including Conor Oberst with special guests Dawes and The Baseball Project, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Neutral Milk Hotel!
The opening band for the Friday night Modest Mouse show was Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls, a band from England who seemed to have a fair share of fans in the crowd. The band members all walked out on stage to what sounded like an Irish sea shanty that was being played as music over the speakers, which was a cool introduction. The first song had a nice acoustic start, and then went right into a more gruff (in a good way) British punk style. After introducing the band, Frank Turner had the chance to demonstrate his leadership of the band a bit, and it became clear that he would be the storyteller of the bunch. One of the first memorable ones was about a time when they had a bit too much to drink after they were on the Ellen Degeneres Show and woke up the next morning wearing the underwear that had been given to them in their goodie bags from being on the show, inspiring Turner to write a song called “Wet Underwear!” After that story, Turner invited an audience member to join him on stage to help him out during a song. A security guard actually came from the side of the stage to help a fan by the name of Sean up from near the front of the crowd; he was asked to play a harmonica solo during “Dan’s Song.” Turner mentioned that, thankfully, Sean could actually play the harmonica because he’d heard a lot worse at some of his other shows and felt bad for having put those people on the spot! The next song up was called “Wherefore Art Thou Gene Simmons,” which was inspired by Turner having read Simmons’ autobiography. Despite the kind of out there title, the song really showed off Turner’s amazing talent on the acoustic guitar; he was playing such nice harmonies with himself that it was hard to believe he was the only guitarist on the stage! This song was in stark contrast to some of the band’s other, more hardcore, tunes, but that just demonstrated the versatility of this group, who were able to move seamlessly from pop to folk to punk, and back again. In fact, the last song of the set had an almost “Lawn Boy”-esque quality, featuring Turner, joined only by the piano at first, crooning to the audience. Striving to keep the audience involved throughout the show, the band employed multiple singalongs and clapping sections (Turner actually had the crowd doing jumping jacks along with one of their tunes after complimenting them on their participation earlier on in the show). This band is definitely going places. Featuring Frank Turner on acoustic guitar and vocals, Ben Lloyd on electric guitar, Nigel Powell on drums, Matt Nasir on electric mandolin/ keys, and Tarrant Anderson on bass, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are not to be missed.
The time between when the opening band left the stage and when Modest Mouse came on was the perfect time to check out the food vendors who were lined up along the back of the concert field. From burgers and sausages, to pizza, to meals from the Cooperstown-based Origins Café food truck, which uses only ingredients grown locally (tonight’s selections included macaroni and cheese, black bean enchiladas, and a spicy green Thai curry), there were plenty of delicious choices. As far as beverages go, Brewery Ommegang’s rich, Belgian-style beer was on tap throughout the night. Judging from the antics of the crowd, it became evident that not everyone was aware that their beers have a higher alcohol content than most; there were definitely some folks out there who were having trouble standing up even before Frank Turner came on to play!
The headliner of the night was Modest Mouse, a Washington State-based indie rock band who got their start in the mid-90s. Having seen them several times in years past when living elsewhere, it was exciting to have such a well-respected band sell out two shows right here in our neck of the woods. There were several die-hard fans out there who seemed to know every lyric to Modest Mouse’s lyrically-complicated songs, as well as people who were there mainly because they knew some of their more popular tunes like “Dashboard,” which they played as the second song in the set.
In similar fashion to Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Modest Mouse entered the stage as a segue out of the heavy techno-trance beats that were being played between sets over the speakers, which seemed to mellow out the crowd, before switching over to an almost “Rock and Roll High School” sounding melody, getting the crowd revved up all over again just in time for their opening number “Invisible.” Heading straight into “Dashboard,” on which the band was joined by an amazing female fiddle player, Modest Mouse never ceased to amaze the crowd with their versatility. At first glance, one may think of Modest Mouse as sounding kind of poppy, but once you experience them live, it’s a different story. During one song they played, “This Devil’s Workday,” several people in the crowd practically started waltzing! It was the closest Modest Mouse’s music will ever come to the music you hear when you open up one of those jewelry boxes with a ballerina inside, but then they came back to their more echo-y, darker sounding material.
At this point in the set, it was raining pretty heavily and band leader Isaac Brock announced that at some point during the evening, either all his equipment was going to stop working because it was not designed for rain, or he would get electrocuted, which would only be fun for him if he survived the ordeal, and then he proceeded to light up a cigarette. Luckily, no electrical issues ensued, and instead, Brock brought out a banjo and guitarist Jim Fairchild and the fiddler brought out a tuba and trumpet, respectively, for the song “Bukowski,” which sounded a bit like a cross between the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Primus. Later on in the set, the band’s song “Dark Center of the Universe,” evolved into a more head bang-y section and even inspired some crowd-surfing. For their next song “Sugar Boats,” the band chose to use the unique combination of trumpet and electric fiddle, the fiddle sounding almost like a clarinet, giving it an almost klezmer feel.
Putting in a plug for the Hall of Fame Classic baseball game happening in Cooperstown on Saturday, May 24 (leading me to think that they might make an appearance at the game?), Modest Mouse moved on to one of their most popular songs, “Float On,” which definitely got a rouse out of the crowd. Feeling a bit beat up from all the rain, the band closed out their set with three more tunes, all of which were more of their harder sound, and ended quite abruptly with “Sh-t Luck”. After a fairly long break backstage, leaving the audience uncertain as to whether the band was going to be coming back for an encore, they surprised us with another five numbers, which again showed off the band’s versatility. The night ended with an extended version of “The View” to coincide with Brewery Ommegang’s signature fireworks display, which they typically have at the end of each of their shows.
After such a high energy show, it was hard to believe that Modest Mouse was going to be doing it all over again the next night (on Saturday night, the band Brand New opened up for them), but they have such a vast repertoire of music that the crowd was sure to be pleased all over again. And as an added bonus, for those lucky enough to have checked out the Hall of Fame Classic baseball game on Saturday, Modest Mouse made an appearance during the “seventh inning stretch” to lead the crowd in a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame!” What an treat after having left Friday night’s concert having felt totally satisfied! Be sure to check them out when they come back to our area again in July for The Hudson Project in Saugerties, where they will be joined by none other than The Flaming Lips, Conspirator, Lettuce, Bassnectar, and many others.
Setlist: Invisible, Dashboard, Satellite Skin, Black Cadillacs, Be Brave, Dramamine/Life Like Weeds, This Devil’s Workday, Bukowski, Broke, The World At Large, Spitting Venom, Dark Center of the Universe, Sugar Boats, Float On, Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Sh-t In Your Cut, Sh-t Luck
Encore: Cowboy Dan, Paper Thin Walls, Gravity Rides Everything, Heart Cooks Brain, The View