ARE YOU DEAD OR ARE YOU SLEEPING?: Modest Mouse @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, 6.20.08

[L to R: bassist Eric Judy, frontman Isaac Brock]

Photos/Text by Andrew Parks
(now UPDATED with a clear, relatively rested head)

Wow, it’s really 4:26 a.m. on Friday morning, and I’m not up because of an all-nighter or any unfortunate combination of drinking and drugging; I’m up because Modest Mouse decided to do a 1:30 a.m. show after their gig supporting R.E.M. at Madison Square Garden. They didn’t come up with this idea months ago, either. They came up with it yesterday morning, leading more than 600 fans to frantically hit refresh on in hopes of scoring a spot to the intimate, albeit impractical show.

Impractical how, you ask? Well, for starters, there was the issue of herding more than 600 fans into a venue that’d held a show just hours earlier (Shearwater and Frog Eyes to be exact), leaving two security guards dumbfounded and unable to reopen doors until around 1:15. In other words, this was probably the first time I’ve ever seen a Music Hall-sized venue sell out and spill into the streets like the place had just been clear by a fire alarm. (Aside from the winding and notably sluggish will call/guest list line, there was a second wait to get in that snaked all the way to the corner and around Kent St.)

Not that anyone was complaining. After all, this impromptu gathering was $20 with no fees attached, which is more than $50 cheaper than general admission tickets at today’s show in Atlanta. Price aside, Modest Mouse simply doesn’t play venues of this size anymore. Hell, the last time I saw them it was at McCarren Pool, in a spot that overlooked the band and a deep end-filling sea of more than 5,000 people. That said, there’s something unnatural, maybe even cruel, about seeing a show of this caliber at 2:30 a.m. (The festivities started an hour late and ended with a subdued, sit-down version of “The Good Times Are Killing Me” at an apparent curfew cutoff of 4.) If you hadn’t already hit the town to some degree–many were coming straight from Crystal Castles or the Vice show at Santos Party House–it was hard to switch one’s brain and body into Andrew W.K. mode, you know?

At least until Modest Mouse came onstage, essentially killing it for a good 90 minutes. A few standout selections from the set list below: the catalog-dipping one-two punch of “Trucker’s Atlas” and “Breakthrough,” the epic, kaleidoscopic balladry of “Dramamine,” the quivering vocals and galloping guitars of “Dashboard,” and a seething version of “Satin in a Coffin” that re-imagined Isaac Brock as a straight-jacketed carny.

Speaking of the impish-but-imposing frontman, he was in perfect form tonight, from his usual unstable array of guitar-slinging acrobatics and bug-eyed theatrics to the sense of humor he brought throughout. Ever the storyteller, he stopped to talk about being brought up among “hicks and dogs” one second and joked with a gear-dragging photographer the next, saying, “You look like bionic man.” Brock then posed for the camera like a model for Northwestern Indie Gods Monthly.

At another point, Brock pretended to act surprised by the turnout, saying, “It’s weird you guys actually showed up.” What’s weird is everyone stayed well-behaved and didn’t complain about the late start or sudden end to the set.

“We don’t sleep!” answered one overenthusiastic fan.

Speaking of, it’s now 5:23 a.m. and I can’t muster another clear-headed thought other than that this show could have been a disaster, but instead it ranks among the Top 5 performances self-titled has seen this year.

The Set List (via

Trucker’s Atlas
Fire It Up
We’ve got Everything
The Whale Song
Wild Pack of Family Dogs
Little Motel
Satin in a Coffin
Paper Thin Walls
Good times Are Killing Me

Also, be sure to check out more photos at Prefix.