- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Portland, Ore.-based Modest Mouse played the HFStival one year ago on the sizzling asphalt of one of RFK stadium’s parking lots. The band played leanly as a trio. Its second major-label album, “Good News for People Who Love Bad News,” was steadily trickling into the mainstream, thanks to the hooky, uncharacteristically optimistic single “Float On.”

It was the start of the season of the Mouse.

Backstage with his toddler son last year, singer-guitarist Isaac Brock played cool. “We’ve been doing this too long to get that excited,” he said

Sure enough, the vagaries of an ill-fated concert summer (the band was to tour on the Lollapalooza circuit), plus Mr. Brock’s ongoing bout with alcoholism, temporarily delayed Modest Mouse’s triumph from Pacific Northwest indies to national alt-rock faves.

“Good News” eventually went platinum and earned a Grammy nomination. And, this year, the continental victory lap finally began. On Thursday night, the band — in this reporter’s view one of America’s best — played a sold-out DAR Constitution Hall.

“This looks like a miniarena,” Mr. Brock dryly observed of the 3,000-seat venue. “I feel like we’re a miniature arena-rock band.”

Who knows what miniature arena-rock sounds like, but Modest Mouse — now expanded to a touring sextet that includes two drummers (wearing identical striped shirts), guitarist-keyboardist Dan Gallucci and a utility-infielder vocalist — sounded anything but small Thursday.

From the stomping choruses of “Bury Me with It” and “Black Cadillacs” to the sprawling experimentalism of “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” the Mouse played punk-loud and threw jam-band-long — like some 21st-century love child of the Pixies and the Grateful Dead.

With the addition of backing percussionists, there were as many as nine musicians onstage for the Thunderclap Newmanesque “The Good Times Are Killing Me,” with Mr. Brock leading the community singalong on banjo.

Constitution Hall is a poor fit for rock bands — too small for production spectacle, too big for intimacy, too ornate and drink-inconvenient for rowdiness (“Sorry for the seats,” Mr. Brock would tell the audience). And the band, used to playing hole-in-the-wall clubs, took its sweet time reheating between songs. Mr. Brock and Company have yet to make concessions to the big time: They don’t work off set-in-stone set lists, and Mr. Brock barely says boo.

“Good News,” which the band played nearly in its entirety, did the talking. Songs such as “One Chance” and “Ocean Breathes Salty” offered theological speculations. “You wasted life/why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife?” Mr. Brock asked on “Ocean.” “Bukowski” contemplated the personality defects of, alternately, literary lion Charles Bukowski and an omnipotent deity.

The latter third of the Mouse’s 90-minute set dipped into the band’s increasingly rich back catalogue, with oddities such as “Never Ending Math Equation,” “Breakthrough,” “Here It Comes” and “Trailer Trash” serving as rewards for pre-“Float On” fans.

Mr. Brock, who is given to spells of depression and has a turbulent history of substance abuse, seemed fit and sober and in a relatively cheery mood Thursday.

Let’s hope the band’s broad success sits well with him, and that the season of the Mouse … floats on.

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