When Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell birthed the
original Lollapalooza in 1991, he imagined it as a rollicking freak
show of a tour, trampling each city with a troupe of eclectic acts
(Fishbone, Violent Femmes, Rollins Band). Indeed, Lollapalooza is
still considered to be the father of the “lifestyle”
package tours that now dominate the summer circuit: Lilith Far,
Warped Tour and Ozzfest have all grown from Lollapalooza’s
ambitious roots. As the years wore on, however, Farrell lost
interest in the festival, and it was eventually taken over by
testosterone goons and bland “alternative” acts. It was
less a lifestyle than a cash cow, and a poor one at that.

Which is why this year was set to be so different: Farrell was
inspired again, and he’d reached rather heartily into the
indie underground to pull together the most impressive group of
artists the tour had ever seen. Legends like The Pixies, Morrissey
and Sonic Youth were the main draws, but more impressive were
Farrell’s invitations to younger acts: Broken Social Scene,
Danger Mouse, TV On the Radio, and Ann Arbor’s Wolf Eyes were
just a few of the groups scheduled.

Despite the undeniably strong lineup, rumors circulated, and
early last month, the tour was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.
Apparently the indie underground is lazy, poor or simply under the
impression that they could buy tickets at the door. Nevertheless,
the tour folded, leaving many of indie rock’s favorite sons
searching for work this summer.

Modest Mouse and The Walkmen were two such groups. Modest Mouse,
hot on the heels of their wildly successful (and profitable) new
album, Good News for People Who Like Bad News, had taken the
road less traveled: their career started nearly a decade ago, as
unheralded, druggy Northwestern teens playing songs about long car
rides. Four albums and a million tours later, they’re on top
of the indie world. The Walkmen followed nearly the opposite career
path. They hit the underground scene like a bolt, riding a wave of
Strokes-y New York hype and a car commercial jingle
(“We’ve Been Had”). Since then, they’ve
maintained a lower profile, dropping the criminally underrated Bows
and Arrows earlier this year. In the past week, both of the
Lollapalooza orphans hit the Detroit/Ann Arbor area.

Modest Mouse arrived with the presence of a much larger band:
Both of their shows at the Royal Oak Music Theatre sold out well in
advance. And judging from the line outside the door, the kids were
coming out in droves: The success of newly-minted modern rock
staple “Float On” brought out a much younger audience
than the band has drawn in the past. In fact, the crowd was so
underage that the night had “My First Indie Rock Show”
written all over it.

Modest Mouse took the stage to the tune of “The
View,” one of the least-exciting numbers off of Good
. To their credit, the band reached fairly deeply into
their past, running through favorites like “Neverending Math
Equation” and “Cowboy Dan.” And while these
numbers drew a surprisingly uproarious reaction from the crowd, the
focus was clearly on the new material. “Float On” was
as buoyant and shout-worthy as expected, and the chirping banjo of
“Bukowski” and searing guitar lines of “Ocean
Breathes Salty” were also faithfully delivered.

Throughout the show, the band were the consummate professionals,
which was somewhat of a shock, given their uneven performance
history. The band was “well rested” according to
frontman Isaac Brock, and the songs were rehearsed and driven.
Despite this, the band still couldn’t overcome its
chronically poor set list choices. “Doin’ the
Cockroach” may be a fan favorite and a decent live song, but
it’s hardly the band’s brightest moment. “3rd
Planet” and “Wild Pack of Family Dogs”
represented the excellent The Moon and Antarctica, but that
album’s dark, spacey compositions were left otherwise

These may be the obvious nitpickings of a longtime fan, but one
couldn’t help notice that Modest Mouse didn’t seem
themselves on stage, despite a strong performance: They seemed
sober, happy, and content with their newfound indie god status. The
good times, it appears, aren’t so bad after all.

The Walkmen are in nearly the opposite place in their careers:
The steam of an overrated debut having worn off, they’ve
found the live response to their gorgeous, sprawling second record,
Bows and Arrows to be less than warm. Despite critical
praise for the album, the band drew poorly in the spring when they
visited Detroit’s Magic Stick. This time through they visited
the cozier confines of Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig.

The band obviously didn’t let the smaller venue bother
them. They were noticeably more lively and cohesive this time out,
instilling their reverb-laden art-rock with a sense of urgency and
passion. Rollicking numbers such as “The Rat” and
“Wake Up” absolutely exploded into the crowd, with
frontman Hamilton Leithauser almost bursting at the seams as he
laid his cat-scratch howl into the microphone. “Little House
of Savages” burst off the stage with an organ riff harsh
enough to scrape the enamel off teeth, and a chorus sweet enough to
rot what’s left. Even slower numbers, such as the
surprisingly warm “What’s In It For Me,” sounded
better than they did months ago, the band instilling them with the
same guarded optimism that makes their records so captivating.

It’s unclear how MM’s stadium-sized angst or The
Walkmen’s dreamer cacophony would’ve translated to the
festival stages of Lollapalooza. It’s likely that MM
would’ve stolen the show with their undeniably smart, scrappy
rock, and the The Walkmen’s show would’ve lost the
intimacy The Blind Pig lent it. This past week, however, fans got
to look at two bands whose current place in the indie rock pantheon
couldn’t be much different. Both are excellent bands, and no
one should begrudge MM’s newfound success: They’ve
earned every moment of it. In different clubs on different nights,
however, it became clear that although Modest Mouse has the
attention of indie rock’s increasingly numerous ears, The
Walkmen are clinging on to its heart.

Yes, we know that fellow Lolla orphan Sonic Youth also played
in Detroit this week. Andrew Gaerig is but one man. Check
michigandaily.com for a picture slideshow of Modest Mouse and The

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