Arts & Culture

Modest Mouse electrifies crowd while Hudson Mohawke fails to connect

Spring Weekend concerts present varied musical styles across seven performances

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, April 20, 2015

Audience members converged on the Main Green for Saturday’s concerts, which featured Kelela, What Cheer? Brigade, Pusha T and headliner Modest Mouse. Yeasayer, Waka Flocka Flame and Hudson Mohawke took the stage Friday night.

Bright shorts and tank tops, inappropriate make-out sessions, the pungent scent of secretly cached marijuana — all blended together in an abundance of skin, grass and laughs. Nothing declares the arrival of spring more loudly than the annual Spring Weekend concerts. Brown Concert Agency meticulously selected the 2015 lineup, comprising artists from varied genres and backgrounds. While most artists lived up to their hype, some fell short of expectations.

Friday’s overcast weather and intermittent chills did not deter students’ readiness to plunge into the outdoor celebration. Thousands flocked to the enclosed Main Green, eager to hear the opening band, Yeasayer. Bantering with the crowd, lead singer Chris Keating revealed his Rhode Island School of Design education and joked about his ambiguous relationship with a costumed Elmo in the crowd while he conjured whimsical sounds with his synthesizer. Adeptly producing animated sound effects, Keating sang with a gnarled voice and moved his body spastically, recalling Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.

Yeasayer started with intensity, playing songs from its debut studio album “All Hour Cymbals” as Anand Wilder took over as lead singer. Wilder’s eclectic vocal style was infused with poignant wisdom. With Keating joking, “We have one hit. I think this is our one hit,” Yeasayer ended its session with more contemporary pop songs.

Waka Flocka Flame appeared afterward, shifting the night’s vibe drastically with fierce rapping that commanded attention. Waka Flocka certainly has a unique style of performing: His voice was barbarous as he aggressively stomped and roamed around the stage. Swearing more frequently than Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Waka Flocka drove the entire crowd into a frenetic uproar, demonstrating his undeniable expertise in crowd-pleasing. He blended his own raps over remixes of hits such as “Turn Down for What,” keeping audience members engaged and moving throughout his set.

While Waka Flocka remained fine-tuned to the crowd, Hudson Mohawke, the next performer, practically ignored it. The night’s headliner, Mohawke did not live up to the designation. Most audience members did not even realize his presence at first: Darkness shrouded the entire stage, and Mohawke failed to interact with the crowd to indicate that he had started playing. Despite this shortcoming, his remixes and beats were novel and admirable on their own.

Fortunately, Friday’s slightly gloomy weather did not persist into Saturday afternoon. Sunlight showered the Main Green as students started lining up for the second day of concerts. Ushering in the audience was a booming brass rendition of Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne,” performed by What Cheer? Brigade. The magnified version pumped the song up in grandness, claiming a charm distinct from the original’s haunting and ephemeral quality.

Performing at Spring Weekend for the fourth consecutive year, the 19-piece brass band demonstrated adeptness at turning obscure classical pieces into brassy bangers. Standing and performing on the stairs of Sayles Hall — literally three feet from the crowd — the band managed to stir up a party and work the crowd without the staggering amplifier. Through shifts of pace, circling of themes, sustained climax and sudden halt, the band kept the audience alert and exited.

Some inspired audience members started to spontaneously swing and jive, creating a cheerful afternoon brawl. At one point, other audience members ducked down to the ground as the band crescendoed, timing their movements with the music. The seemingly choreographed interactions kicked off the afternoon on an upbeat note.

Kelela performed next, bringing the music back to the main stage. In a time when R&B music often sounds manufactured and repetitive, Kelela’s mixture of electronic and R&B styles came across as refreshing and authentic. While her stylish image and sweet soprano are reminiscent of the late R&B genius Aaliyah, Kelela tackles the genre with a more experimental spirit. Hitting the high notes and nailing the turns, Kelela’s powerful and silky voice hovered above the stage. But appreciating the beauty of dissonance between these two styles takes energy and time. With audience members generally unfamiliar with her music, Kelela’s performance did not incite the strongest reaction from the crowd.

Any previous tepidness was swept away by Pusha T, who came out strong with his potent rapping. More people flowed to the Main Green as the sun set, and all were drawn to the front of the stage like magnets. Supported by another rapper on stage, Pusha T rolled out rhythms and words, shooting doses of adrenaline to the crowd. Hefty bass with earthshaking momentum prevailed throughout Pusha T’s performance. As the evening progressed, the crowd enthusiastically adjusted and assembled for the final act.

After a seven-year hiatus from releasing new music, Modest Mouse returned to the stage with its latest album, “Strangers to Ourselves.” The band emerged with Isaac Brock’s frantic shouts accompanying intensive strumming of guitars. After being bombarded by synthetic music, the audience embraced Modest Mouse’s substantial and original artistry.

Altering comfortably between different styles and instruments, Modest Mouse displayed great versatility — a characteristic that defines its career trajectory. Brock’s eccentric vocal style pierced through the band’s acoustic meditations and earsplitting jamming. Though at times overwhelmed by electronic augmentation, Modest Mouse’s playing retained the visceral and unfeigned vibe that made many Brown students originally fall in love with the band.

After a number of songs and instances of Brock conversing with the audience in his typically crude manner, the band retreated from the stage. In response to ceaseless chanting of “Modest Mouse,” “Float On” and “encore,” the band came back to the stage and belted out a few of their greatest classics, including the career-defining anthem “Float On.” The crowd joined in on the chorus, feeding off of its nostalgia for the song and putting a perfect end note on the two-day extravaganza.

  • Brown ’16

    “Hudson Mohawk fails to connect.”

    Understatement of the century brought to you by the BDH.

    • Another Brown ’16

      Forreals. Worst SW performance I’ve seen in the past 3 years

      • ’09

        Can any alumni who were there compare it to the MIA debacle of 2008?

        • Brown ’14

          Worse than Diddy in 2011? About 2 hours late, almost completely inaudible, and less exciting than an 8:30 AM. Oh, and it was indoors.

          • ’09

            MIA was also indoors, the only thing audible were gunshots – can’t remember for certain if she was on time but definitely not 2 hours late. I’m willing to call it a draw.

    • Brown ’16

      that wasn’t hudson mohawk. He never came on. That was a BCA member.

  • Sambam

    1) People were “less responsive” to Kelela because her music was so chill
    2) The sun set during Modest Mouse, not Pusha T
    3) Modest Mouse didn’t come out in response to the chanting for an encore. It was very obviously planned, as most encores are