When Modest Mouse began recording a decade ago, the Washington-state trio was aligned with Olympia's lanky folk-punk rather than Seattle's muscle-bound grunge. While some lankiness was still evident Thursday night at Constitution Hall, Modest Mouse has significantly bulked up. The band's current touring version is basically a quintet, but there were as many as eight musicians onstage at times, appending percussion, keyboards, trumpet and bowed bass to the two-drummer, two-guitar lineup.
Singer-guitarist Isaac Brock joked that he now fronts "a miniature arena-rock band," yet there was nothing miniature about such tunes as "Bury Me With It," which came as close to Black Sabbath as anything Pearl Jam's ever done. Even when some of the guitars were acoustic -- or when Brock switched to banjo, indulging his new taste for Appalachian gloom -- the playing was often bludgeoning. The band's breakthrough hit, "Float On," had a sturdy enough refrain to rise above the clamor. But a lot of the band's arrangements were just too big for the modest songs.
The recently reconstituted Camper Van Beethoven, which opened, offered a similar blend of rusticity and heavy rock, with the added twist of violinist Jonathan Segal's Eastern European airs. The group played its best-known song, "Take the Skinheads Bowling," but more telling was a version of the Clash's "White Riot" that sounded like the Grateful Dead.
-- Mark Jenkins
The question at Thursday's performance at Wolf Trap's Filene Center was, what's it going to be? The three musicians making up the summer-long touring ensemble Trio! -- Bela Fleck, Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty -- are masters of their instruments but in decidedly different genres.
So was the show going to be fiery bluegrass from Fleck's five-string banjo? Jazz fusion from double-bassist Clarke? Rock-and-roll riffs from Ponty's fiddle?
As it happened, it was an impressive set of progressive jazz, with elegantly extended jams that drew from each musician's strengths. Clarke, seated at the center, held each piece together with the nimble playing he's known for. His gravity allowed Fleck and Ponty to chase melodies up and down their fret boards, exploring nuances and expanding the range of the pieces in thick layers of sonic overlap.
Ponty's tone found the border where fiddle begets violin on "South" and "Funky Ponty," an original composition named by Fleck and Clarke (Ponty's choice was "Legend of the Unicorn," but he was voted down, he said). Fleck wrote "Storm Warning" for the trio, and the piece conjured images of thunder and lightning in shifty time signatures.
Clarke's original offering was "Song to John," a tribute to John Coltrane that was appropriately somber as it was musically vibrant. There were several transcendent passages that were spellbinding in their passion and jaw-droppingly captivating in their performance. The same applies to the concert at large.
-- Buzz McClain
Architecture in Helsinki
They write songs with titles such as "Do the Whirlwind" and "Scissor Paper Rock." One reviewer described their musical approach as "a third-grade music class let loose in a music instrument warehouse." Like pouty preschoolers, they often refuse to reveal the origin of their band name. But Australian octet Architecture in Helsinki isn't trying to muscle in on the Wiggles' market share. They're too busy being indie rock's latest buzz band.
An overflow throng had gathered at DC9 relatively early Thursday night to see the band -- whose instrumentation included trombone, tuba and every manner of percussion -- but the anticipatory hum had weakened by the time the five-man, three-woman ensemble wedged itself onstage well after midnight.
Instead of a big-band roar, AIH cultivated an organic clamor of shifting tempos and shout-along, schoolyard choruses. In a set drawn mainly from their latest album, "In Case We Die," the songs "Tiny Paintings," "It'5!" and "Frenchy, I'm Faking" stood out, recalling the multi-part pop rush of the Arcade Fire, and Belle & Sebastian. And even before they launched into the Go-Betweens' "People Say," the literate, bittersweet lyrical aftertaste of those fellow Aussies was apparent in Cameron Bird's voice and words.
Throughout the rambling branches of AIH's music, Bird's voice and guitar were the one constant, leading the way through jungles of clattering percussion vamps and steadier folk romps like "Fumble." And though the hour-plus set was engaging, it packed a curiously small emotional punch. Whether that was because of the night's long wait, the group's grueling tour schedule or a lack of depth behind the band's quirky melodies was as puzzling as the rationale for its offbeat moniker.
-- Patrick Foster
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
A concerto usually spotlights the soloist, but it's the surrounding atmospherics that are most striking about American composer Daniel Brewbaker's new violin concerto, "Playing and Being Played." In the hands of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and violinist Vadim Repin, this uniquely crafted concerto received its world premiere on Thursday evening at Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore.
Repin drew more on his expressive abilities than his imperial technique in the 20-minute work. Delivering a consistently sweet yet firm tone, the skilled Russian elaborated on a plangent phrase as the accompanying orchestral textures molted from jazzy percussion textures to glassy modernist harmonics. With a clear beat and subtle directions, guest conductor James Judd stretched and colored these textures like a richly colorful and dynamic kaleidoscope.
Repin negotiated Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35, with delicacy and brawn, etching achingly sweeping lines in the grand opening. The virtuoso imbued the cadenza with a searching quality that touched on extremes of volume, rhythm and tempo. In the lyrical andante, Repin's songlike passages emerged like a lonely voice in a somber landscape, while in the finale he crackled with fiery energy.
On its own, the orchestra gave a roaring account of Respighi's brilliant "Pines of Rome." Even with a booming, brass-filled closing, the second movement, "Pines Near a Catacomb," was most impressive. A distant trumpet solo and muted strings infused the music with a somber beauty and enchanting mystery.
-- Daniel Ginsberg