Talk about a happy accident. When it was announced that Death Cab For Cutie were canceling their appearance at Fun Fun Fun Fest, organizers quickly replaced them with Modest Mouse. It was a surprising switcharoo, as the band’s last proper release was an EP in 2009 and they haven’t turned up in Austin to play live since 2011. What they have done this year is reissue 1996’s “The Lonesome Crowded West” and 1997’s “This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About” and spent a lot of time hitting the festival circuit.
The crowd at Fun Fun Fun Fest was certainly enthusiastic, packing in around the Orange Stage for last night’s performance. Isaac Brock emerged on stage with his bandmates, his head covered by a red knit hat that telegraphed his roots in the Pacific Northwest, to a crescendo of noise that culminated in “The World At Large.” A sea of cell phone screens filled the air as attendees leaped to capture the opening moments from a band they’d been missing dearly.
All of the other performances of the day had been broadcast on a giant video screen to the right of the stage, but Modest Mouse was not. It’s unclear if that was because of a malfunction or by the request of the band, but it made the crowd crush feel more palpable as people continued trying to push so that they could be as close as possible. The band sounded better than I’ve ever seen them before and they ran through a setlist that was clearly for hardcore fans.
It’s not as though there weren’t crowd pleasers. Pretty early in the set, they pulled out “Dashboard”, which was a single that had the crowd singing along in unison. Aside from that, one of the only other songs that was immediately recognizable for casual fans was “Float On,” a song that took the band to number one at modern rock radio stations across the country a decade ago. Modest Mouse spent most of their limited set time going beyond the surface of their catalog, mining for deep cuts like “Night On The Sun” (originally only released on a Japanese EP in 1999) and “This Devil’s Work” from “Good News For People Who Love Bad News.”
Brock didn’t waste too much of their 75-minute set on banter, but he did lament that they were playing against King Diamond and, apparently smelling the abundance of skunk weed being smoked by teenagers in the crowd, stopped to ask “Is someone burning a big pile of hair?” Even playing a few minutes over their scheduled time just didn’t feel like enough, but the evening ended on a high note with an extended, jammed out version of “Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes.” When it became clear that the crowd wasn’t ready to let them leave, the band returned to stage with Brock saying, “In the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, we’ll play one more before curfew.” Quite appropriately to end Day 2 of the festival, they launched into “The Good Times Are Killing Me.”