Modest Mouse, Kowalski, Morgan O'Kane and Ferd Four
Custom House Square, Belfast
Thursday, 9th September, 2010
So after Mumford and Sons super-hyped opening night and Iron and Wine's reverentially received gig, it's now time for alt-rock veterans Modest Mouse to show Custom House Square what they're made of. Things are looking grim though - a half empty hall and a scrum of semi-interested hipsters outside bode poorly. But it's early doors yet and a band with a pedigree like Modest Mouse should be able to pull it off...
First up we have the Open House festival's resident band, Morgan O'Kane and Ferd Four. It's mostly harmless bluegrass boogie, a little out of place in the line-up but a pleasant enough way to pass half an hour as you get accustomed to your surroundings.
Then come local lads Kowalski. It's hard to believe it's nearly half a decade since they first burst onto the scene, riding the wave of hype that resulted from the quite, quite lovely Are You Noisy Sunshine State EP. Then the tour, the Snow Patrol supports, then nothing... until last year's Take Care, Take Flight EP.
Recent gigs have been somewhat shaky, but tonight the band are in top form, sounding lush and tight as a drum. New tunes abound, focusing heavily on new material that sounds brighter, more muscular and - dare I say it - mature than before. With some more effort, some more shows and momentum, there's no reason why the boys can't claw their way to the top of the heap.
Modest Mouse then take to the stage, which doesn't quite seem big enough - there are two drum-kits for a start, at least six band members (no Johnny Marr though) and a selection of keyboards, upright basses and other more esoteric instruments. Kicking off with the recently re-released Moon and Antarctica's 3rd Planet, the band make an admirable racket.
But soon it seems like they're running out of steam. They might have the stage presence in Isaac Brock's art-school educated mountain preacher schtick, but attention has started to drift. When it comes down to it, Modest Mouse just don't have enough tunes to enrapture the casual listener. For every Modest Mouse fanatic who's bawling along, singing every lyric, there's someone who's there to hear Float On.
"That song" is dispatched competently and without fanfare, providing the night's only real singalong, whilst the rest of the music drifts between the soporific and the abrasive. Missed the Boat is another highlight - a tranquil little bay in an otherwise stormy sea.
When Modest Mouse click they're a raging beast, raw enough to inspire a proper visceral reaction. When they don't it's time to hit the bar. The fans lap it up, the hipsters drift outside, and we're left with the lingering impression that while it might be very easy to admire this band, they're very hard to love.