Modest Mouse live in London: indie icons return to the capital on red-hot form

O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, July 18: their first London show in seven years might coincide with heavy weather, but the six-piece still turn up the heat

Of course Modest Mouse wound up playing London amid an unprecedented 40°C heat wave that’s been declared a national emergency. They are, after all, a band prone to mishaps and misfortune: when this writer last saw them for NME they’d mislaid their instruments en route to the gig, meaning half of their members spent an excruciating set grinding through their cult hits on as much gear as they could borrow. They even have a song called ‘Shit Luck’.

Tonight, though, the Pacific Northwest six-piece are radically on form. Not renowned for their live prowess, they rise to the improbability of the occasion. ‘Fuck Your Acid Trip’ is more of an industrial-psych freak-out than the campfire dittie that appeared on their recent album ‘The Golden Casket’, while laconic drummer Jeremiah Green gets a workout – in this heat! – during a toothsome ‘King Rat’. And let’s not talk about the fact that guitarist Simon O’Connor is wearing a hoodie.

Frontman Isaac Brock, himself donning the kind of boiler suit he’s made part of his eccentric dad persona lately, tends to mix up set lists from one show to the next, but rolling from the anthemic optimism of ‘Float On’ to the grimy dancefloor spasm of ‘Doin’ The Cockroach’ has proven a winning tactic he wisely repeats here. The former goes off, a testament to the group’s seemingly increased comfort in pleasing crowds (even if the singer quips afterwards: “I don’t normally like explaining songs, but that one is about… floating on”).

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While the early Modest Mouse records sounded like someone had taken a cheese grater to them, the band’s more recent work is imbued with a hip-hop sheen. Last year, Brock told NME that his increasing perfectionism had led him to try and combine the two: “I actually tried remixing all those [early] records from the ground up – six to nine times… It was bad… So I just flushed it. I thought, ‘This is stupid – no-one wants to hear their old punk records [in hi-definition].’” It’s curious, then, that as the group’s studio releases have become ever-more pristine, their live shows have often remained as fabulously disastrous as ever.

Perhaps, though, after 25 years as one of the most mercurial indie bands on the planet, the most interesting and unexpected thing they could do now is play a truly great gig. The frontman makes only one reference to the freaky weather, glugging from a bottle and muttering, “Some motherfucker has found a way to make water that makes me thirstier… How did they do that?” The world is a weird place, as Brock well knows, and it’s thankfully a little weirder – and more unpredictable – for having Modest Mouse in it.

modest mouse
Modest Mouse performing in London, July 2022 (Picture: James Kelly / Press)

Modest Mouse played:

‘3rd Planet’

‘Fuck Your Acid Trip’

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‘Fire It Up’

‘Dramamine’ (with ‘Life Like Weeds’ outro)

‘We Are Between’

‘We’re Lucky’

‘Dance Hall’

‘Dashboard’

‘Tiny Cities Made of Ashes’

‘Wooden Soldiers’

‘Bukowski’

‘King Rat’

‘Broke’

‘Float On’

‘Doin’ the Cockroach’

‘Back to the Middle’

‘Leave a Light On’

‘Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine’

‘Japanese Trees’

‘Lampshades on Fire’

‘Spitting Venom’

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