The Modest Mouse set -- in and of itself -- was worth the drive to Monterey.
Heck, just the incredible encore of "Spitting Venom" was enough to make one glad he or she came to the inaugural First City Festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.
The indie-rock band was absolutely tremendous on Sunday, delivering a set that (nearly) washed away all memories of its surprisingly mousy show earlier this year at the Fox Theater in Oakland. It was enough to restore my faith in Modest Mouse, a band that I had long considered one of the best live acts in rock 'n' roll.
The set list basically ensured a good time for all. It drew strongly -- much more strongly than the one in Oakland -- from the band's best album, 2000's "The Moon and Antarctica." Stand out selections included "Dark Center of the Universe," "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" and "I Came as a Rat."
Vocalist-guitarist Isaac Brock, despite being hobbled by a hurt ankle, was in full madman glory, ranting and raving and rocking in vintage form. When he's on -- which he certainly was during the closing set at the two-day First City Festival -- he ranks among the most visually entertaining frontman in alt-rock. He'll often bang on his guitar with such intensity and force, building up mountains of distortion, as if he's trying to show us what Neil Young might sound like after drinking a case of 5-Hour Energy shots.
He's also a delightfully peculiar and unpredictable fellow. At one point, he tried to get the fans to be quiet and hold their breath for four seconds. When that attempt failed, he changed course and instructed the crowd to boo loudly and spit on others. Fortunately, that order -- at least the spitting part -- was ignored as well.
Yet, the strange stage banter was greatly outweighed by fantastic songs. Modest Mouse was definitely on its game on Sunday, which made for a fine ending to what had been a memorable debut of the First City Festival.
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