Live Review: Modest Mouse/Built to Spill at the Washington State Fair 9/21

all photos by Matthew B. Thompson (view set)

As a born and bred Northwesterner, seeing a dual lineup of my teenage (and adult) favorites Modest Mouse and Built To Spill play at the fair I went to every single year from the time I was a child until I was a pre-teen, the Puyallup Fair (I’m sorry, but it will never be the Washington State Fair to me) was a surreal experience. On the long journey from Seattle to Puyallup, I had an interesting discussion with my partner, who’s from Orange County, and our friend who’s from Memphis about the fact that they had always romanticized Seattle and the music scene here from the time they were young. Our discussion started with how influential and important Modest Mouse and Built To Spill were to us as adolescents and grew into a discussion about how it feels like Seattleites take for granted the wealth of amazing music that has come out of here and continues to do so, not to mention the cornucopia of opportunities for musicians. I could go into a long think piece about that, but I’ll spare you and just get to the show review.

We get to the fair fairly early to enjoy the wholesome type of fun that fairs provide. It’s a strange scenery for a show and we run into a number of friends and people from the Seattle scene while enjoying our elephant ears. I find my seat promptly at 7:30, which is unlike me but turned out to be for the best since Built To Spill started at roughly 7:28 as a beckoning call to strip people from their tilt-a-whirls and scones for their intended purpose at the fair. I’ve seen Built To Spill a few times and tonight they were at their jam bandiest. They only played a total of 6 songs in the hour-ish that they played, with a myriad of riffs and solos extending the songs out.

Doug Martsch looked incredibly casual considering the arena setting but I wouldn’t have expected anything else. I’m sure I wouldn’t have even noticed him walking around the fairgrounds before the show if I saw him. But despite the casual appearance, the performance didn’t feel phoned in or tamed down. The setlist was interesting to me, though, with only a couple big hits in the mix. They started things off with “Goin’ Against Your Mind” from 2006’s You In Reverse, played Untethered Moon‘s lead single “Living Zoo” mid-set, and ended things off with fan favorite “You Were Right” from 1999’s Keep It Like A Secret. But in between those it was all B-sides and deep cuts.



In between sets, my friends and I go to the stadium bar to get drinks and hear what sounds like a hive of bees through the speakers. Luckily, no bees were to be found and it was just a profusion of pedals being played simultaneously as an alert that everyone’s favorite band (whether you admit it or not) was about to play. This was actually my first time seeing Modest Mouse and it took me a minute to get over the fact that Isaac Brock’s singing voice is *exactly* the same as his speaking voice. For some reason, I’d always thought he may have been putting on an affectation but nope that’s just how he sounds. Which is fantastic and made me love him just a little more.

Brock gave a number of quotable moments throughout the set, my favorite being: “What happens over there? I heard they sell elephant ears…that seems inhumane.” It felt good for him to mention both the proverbial and literal elephant in the room, the fact that we’re an indie rock show at a country fair. Those are two very different cultures to be colliding at once and it was good that they felt as strange about it as we did.

Unlike Built To Spill, Modest Mouse didn’t shy away from the hits. I was actually a bit surprised that they played “Float On,” the song that burst them into the mainstream public stratosphere. I admire that they didn’t take a Radiohead-like approach to the song by refusing to play it or doing a lifeless version of it. They gave it their all, knowing full well that they’re in their home state and the audience is probably knowledgeable enough about their catalog that they don’t *have* to play it. I feel like that says a lot about them and their commitment to putting on a great show.

They started and ended the set with two other beloved songs off of their most well-known album, 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News. The starting song being “The World At Large” and the ending being my personal favorite “Dashboard.” An encore was assumed and expected by both the audience and the band, who made the former work rather hard for them to come out only to announce that the venue said they can’t play a minute past 10pm which was disappointing for all parties involved. I could end this on a positive note but I don’t feel like the dour-prone Martsch or Brock would resonate with that so I’m going to end with one of Brock’s great quotes of the evening.

“It’s no one’s fault but I thought it would be 15 degrees cooler and I thought it would be raining and I thought I’d be able to complain…complaining’s fun.”

Can’t disagree with that.

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