Live Review: Modest Mouse, Pearls

22 March 2016 | 2:56 pm | Hannah Story

"We got it all... almost."

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Did people leave Modest Mouse content yesterday? Maybe not. But not for want of trying? Or maybe because they didn't really care? They didn't have to care? They definitely left quite the bump out job - when we arrived the stage was jammed with amps, two drum kits, gear strewn everywhere. When we left, there was a huge truck outside - presumably to take all that gear up to Byron Bay for Bluesfest this Easter long weekend. Epic.

Melbourne band Pearls are our openers - they've expanded to a five-piece since their debut record Pretend You're Mine came out last year, which has allowed them to expand musically too. They've now got the scope for synth, guitar lines, keys, bass, held together by breakneck drumming from Ellice Blakeney. Playing some new songs they seem to have broken away from the lush dream-pop of their earlier work, moving along to something rockier with a bit more grit and sass, vocalist and guitarist Ryan Caesar at its centre. They finished the set with their best song, the catchy single Big Shot. Even people not familiar with the band's ears pricked up — this has definitely had some rotation on local radio, is a pop hit, is something you can immediately sing along to. An impressive set.

We're introduced to Modest Mouse by the sound of wasps, or bees, or flies, whatever, insects buzzing, the sound swelling, almost deafening by the time the band emerge. They didn't ever play Float On, so if you're reading for that, click away, be disappointed, like some of the crowd were at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour set (on a school night! Gasp!). We got two encores, we got the drawl and jocular banter of Isaac Brock, the glue that keeps the eight-piece together, we got a set that spanned their six studio albums, in particular last year's Strangers To Ourselves, their first full-length in eight years. We got it all... almost.

We've got eight people on stage at almost all times, right off the bat with fast-paced opener Invisible and Of Course We Know, and a huge collection of instruments: two drum kits, assorted percussion, strings, trumpets, guitar, bass, double bass, ukulele, banjo... It just keeps going. Brock is to the right of the stage and sometimes his vox are drowned out, because boy wouldn't it be hard to rise over the din of at least eight instruments (can we repeat: two drum kits; and a ninth member on trumpet emerging intermittently)? He's open to outfit changes, donning a beanie only to discard it a song later, emerging for the first encore sans sensible button-up (he has a T-shirt now), and wipes his sweaty face throughout the set with a handkerchief handmade for him with their name sewed on it - just in case he forgets.

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The set leans towards their rockier catalogue, there are no moments of quiet contemplation here, the ones that break up a record, and when there is, like on Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes and 3rd Planet, they're given a sense of urgency, the pace seemingly sped up. There's no dumping of the outros here either, horns, double bass and all, we've got it, lending the set a sense of tension and carefully curated discord through the likes of Never Ending Math Equation and Lampshades On Fire. What's always been most exciting about Modest Mouse were their unconventional song structures, rapidfire witty lyrics twisting around each other, the idea of distinguishing between verse, bridge, chorus silly. In the live arena it's easy to see how this works, everything sounding and looking larger (thanks Grey Ice Water; Pups To Dust; The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box), the lights timed to changes in tempo. It's also clear just how charismatic band leader Brock is, the group looking to him for direction, subdued on stage compared to his jerking around brandishing his guitar, sometimes overhead ("It's so hard not to be a dick all the time," he says). And he takes breaks to take sips of "tea", before moving on stage like a man possessed for Doing The Cockroach, Bukowski, March Into The Sea and Dashboard. Then we're all Out Of Gas.

It's encore time - introduced with the sound of cicadas? Or wasps again? Oh God, it's building. We're treated to Shit In Your Cut, Sugar Boats, Missed The Boat and The Good Times Are Killing Me, the audience holding out for a Float On that never comes, even as roving strobe lights illuminate the whole theatre. At around 11pm it's time for our second encore, introduced with those bloody insects again - swat 'em away. We're given Satellite Skin, I Came As A Rat, Ocean Breathes Salty and Strangers To Ourselves to say goodbye, and we're sated.