The Kinks’ Ray Davies wrote about a man who busied himself “telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty.” He might well have been talking about Modest Mouse front man Isaac Brock, who brought plenty of those yarns to the stage of Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday night.
The title of the band’s left-field breakthrough “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” — which made up the bulk of the perf — mirrors the content of Brock’s songs, populated with not-so-beautiful losers and lurching, hangover-inflected chord progressions.
Dispensing with formalities, Brock and company launched into their sole radio hit, “Float On,” immediately after taking the stage. While that song was afforded a surprisingly cursory delivery, the set quickly picked up steam, with Dan Gallucci nudging “Doin’ the Cockroach” forward with prickly, unpredictable guitar lines.
Despite a stage presence that bordered on total inertia, Brock managed to keep the aud focus squarely on him, whether by unleashing a particularly squirrelly vocal yelp or an especially sinister lyrical turn. The latter approach was best served by the bluegrass-tinged “Bukowski,” on which Brock channeled the spirit of the late Skid Row poet with eerie accuracy.
Other than Brock’s brief aside that the hall was “a little fancy for us,” the quintet seemed relatively unmoved by the leap from clubland. Songs still spiraled virtually out of control (a lolling “Trailer Trash”) or gradually evaporated into ether (the sepulchral “Satin in a Coffin”) as often as they built up in logical fashion.
That capriciousness, long a large part of Modest Mouse’s charm, came to fullest fruition in the perf’s encore, an affable meander that culminated with an extended, violin-enhanced version of “Cowboy Dan.” Although the jamming sometimes bordered on self-indulgence, onlookers found enough openings to slip in and join the festivities.
Hyper-prolific garage auteur Billy Childish warmed up the aud with a short, sharp set long on both quintessentially British wisecracking and the universally understandable.