If diamonds are forever, being all that’s needed to please us, what then of Pearls? The Melbourne outfit certainly have a lot of the sheen and style of their namesake, but it doesn’t last all that long in the live setting. The despondence that comes with watching Pearls perform is twofold. The first comes with the slept-upon song structures and ideas, which are largely-uninspired pastiches of hot-button phases through pop and rock’s modern era.
The band sports two songs that largely borrow from the shuffle and stomp of Tame Impala’s Elephant but lack all of its swagger and punch. Furthermore, lifting from a band who have more or less made a career of lifting makes Pearls feel even more like a copy of a copy. The other key factor in Pearls’ live show being one riddled with disappointment is the fact that none of them seem to care about what they are doing at all. Not in any sort of shades-indoors cool manner, either – strictly in the sense that all five of them look like they would rather be doing anything else. Funny, that – as it turns out, so would we.
After an extended wait, Modest Mouse make their arrival in one of the most jarring ways possible: They blast the Culture Club ear-worm Karma Chameleon at full volume, before playing a looped field recording of bees buzzing. Not only is the sound incredibly grating, one part of the brain has to deal with it while the other attempts to get Boy George’s all-too-catchy refrain out of the system.
Still, that’s Modest Mouse for you. Now in full swing of their 23rd year of existence, the band have significantly and substantially evolved from their humble indie beginnings to one of the most celebrated acts within their spectrum. They have gotten to this stage of critical adulation and a fervently cult-like fan-base through continuing to keep indie-rock weird, as well as seeking out inventive ways to approach their music both in a recorded and live sense.
It’s an unwieldy ship that’s run up on that stage, and more than once it all threatens to fall apart entirely. When it locks into gear, however, it more than makes up for any dragging lulls across the show’s exhaustive (and exhausting) 140-minute runtime. Founding member and sole constant Isaac Brock calls the shots from stage left, barking and mumbling his way from obscure deep-cuts (Out of Gas, Tiny Cities Made of Ashes) to celebrated set staples (Dashboard, King Rat).
He’s guided by a mix of multi-instrumentalists, including secret weapon Tom Peloso and MVP Lisa Molinaro; each seamlessly transitioning between strings, double bass, pedal steel, keyboards and harpsichord – to name but a few. Up the back, co-founding drummer Jeremiah Green leads a miniature army of cymbals, snares, toms and all things percussive. While having three forms of percussionist may well be seen as a rockstar indulgence that even Axl Rose might scoff at, the trio complement one another impressively; particularly when the more upbeat numbers kick into overdrive.
Indeed, the Modest Mouse live structure is impressive for its versatility, its skill and its spectacle. There are easy flaws to be found – a second encore stretches the friendship significantly, and the more petulant of casual fans inevitably bemoans the lack of ubiquitous hit Float On.
Still, for every forgettable detour, we’re rewarded with moments like the all-in triumph of The Good Times Are Killing Me or the passionately-executed Ocean Breathes Salty. An odd, endearing look at one of the more peculiar bands on the Bluesfest bill, resulting in a die-hard’s dream set.
Modest Mouse play Bluesfest 2016, this weekend in Byron Bay.
Photos by Brendan Matich