Concert Review: Pixies / Modest Mouse / Cat Power @ MASS MoCA, 08/26/2023

NORTH ADAMS, MA – Jim and I stepped through a portal to the 1990s to attend the Modest Mouse and Pixies concert at MASS MoCA Saturday night. The alternative rock band the Pixies are from Massachusetts, and memories of their music brought me directly back to my late high school self. The band co-headlined with Modest Mouse, a later 90s band from Washington, who drew a high volume of younger fans to the venue as well.

Opener Cat Power led the night with her sexy, bluesy voice that had a warm and familiar sound to it. While I had never followed Cat Power, I quickly saw the appeal of her sound and her contribution to the era we were celebrating. She had a gentle nature that came through in her presence on stage, and while she covered a number of familiar songs, she managed to make them her own through changes in tempo and emphasis.

Modest Mouse (Photo by Jim Gilbert)

Modest Mouse took the stage in all their garage band sound came along with them. Loud, grungy but not grunge, and welcoming the stranger parts of being human, Modest Mouse sounded even better than when I listened to them in the late 1990s. This is a band whose music soothed me through my angsty years, and yes, there were angsty years before 9/11 and the COVID pandemic. They simply were more private, and as such, music was so important in experiencing them.

Modest Mouse came out with unapologetic sadness, anger, and despair, playing minor chords and soliciting sounds that I once recalled affirming my youthful grief at being (only) human. The moon peeked from behind the clouds as a damp chill covered my skin, and I remembered this feeling of connection to others through emotion. Punk rock moved the crowd in waves of fist pumps in front of me, each reaching up with rage toward the inky sky, punctuating the raw sound with their own challenging feelings.

They sounded great. Maybe even better than when I was younger. But then again, when I was younger I might’ve been more consumed by the emotion and connection than the actual sound.

We time traveled even further back for the Pixies, a Boston-based band who took the stage and rapid-fire screamed and growled through heavy bass drum heartbeats, fluctuating volume for dramatic effect. They, too, were even better than I remembered, rolling from one hit to another with high energy that belied their age.

Pixies (Photo by Jim Gilbert)

Others stood and jumped up and down, and while I recalled the familiar dance, my older body chose the head bob (like the car dashboard dolls) as an alternative expression of solidarity. What made the Pixies so incredibly good then continues to make them great now: they aren’t afraid to play with sound, testing out the limits of their instruments without apparent care of how it impacts the crowd.

But it impacts the crowd favorably—it did before and clearly does now. Young teens were singing along, knowing all the lyrics and still connecting to a vibe that their parents (and maybe cooler aunts and uncles) loved at their age.

Jim and I climbed into the car for the drive home over the Berkshires and sat initially in silence. I could feel that there was a time shift happening, a return through the portal to the here and now, back to today. And I was glad for it.

Pixies (Photo by Jim Gilbert)

The music was outstanding. But it hit differently in 2023 on this older, more confident heart. As it should, by the way. No longer grieving being (only) human, I celebrate my life and where I am at. And I’m not as sad as I was in my earlier years, thank goodness.

MASS MoCA is a perfect venue for such time travel, and I highly recommend readers check out their upcoming concerts (see Labor Day weekend’s Alvvays and, of course, Fresh Grass later in September). At one point, the clouds descended on us as we reached up for the sky, and I was so incredibly grateful for the beauty of the moment: the music, the art around us, the natural world, and each other.

Photo Galleries by Jim Gilbert

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