The curious strains of eccentric Issaquah, Wash., band Modest Mouse — which quickly sold all tickets for its two nights last week at the El Rey — is clearly an alternative to mainstream rock, but you won’t hear the group’s fractured tales on so-called alt-rock radio stations. Instead, the mighty Mouse makes music for that shadowed slice of the youth demographic that believes that clues to life’s mysteries can be found by the side of long and deserted dirt roads.
At the packed El Rey, following a winning set from fellow fringe-rockers Califone, Modest Mouse and tightly wound leader Isaac Brock, offered a compelling mesh of poignant themes and jarring musical leaps and bounds.
Something of a backwoods Talking Heads, Modest Mouse, which formed in 1993, brought together frantic and unpredictable drum beats, elastic and throbbing bass lines, shimmering and spooky guitar chords and emotionally charged lyrics for a unique blend that also recalled Neil Young and fellow Northwest college rockers Built To Spill.
Highlights of the 90-minute show included “Third Planet,” which considered birth, life and death in dramatic tones that were both chilling and soothing, and the peppy paranoia of “Paper Thin Walls,” both from Modest Mouse’s upcoming Epic Records debut “The Moon and Antarctica,” as well as tracks from the band’s assortment of indie-released albums, EPs and singles, like the lonely wail of “Dramamine,” from 1997’s excellent album “This Is a Long Drive…” (Up Records).
While certainly not a band for everyone, Modest Mouse has achieved a connection with a growing audience who see the group as one of the last of a passing breed of college rock acts with the capacity to offer both challenging guitar rock and the ability to effectively frame it with reflective themes that go beyond the usual romantic concerns.