Imagine the burgeoning ’90s-era Pacific Northwest indie rock scene as a classroom. Then imagine former Cottage Grove resident Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse as the hyperactive, erratic yet undeniably brilliant kid at the back of that classroom — the kid who, despite expectations, goes ahead and produces an indie rock masterpiece in the form of 1997’s The Lonesome Crowded West.
That record is what Modest Mouse does best: simple and raw, mysterious and knowable, grooves both angular and danceable. And Brock — a little Black Francis, a little Kurt Cobain, but mostly just his gloriously weird, abrasive self — acting as a shouting carnival barker, curating a show of his own making, riding his squealing guitar work into the sunset.
In 2004 Modest Mouse scored a bona-fide mainstream hit with the infectious single “Float On.” But it wasn’t until ’07 that they earned their true rock ’n’ roll stripes, enlisting The Smiths’ Johnny Marr for We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank — itself a masterpiece of indie rock gone mainstream, on par with crossover attempts from legends like REM and U2.
At first blush, Marr seemed like an unlikely ally for Modest Mouse. But both Brock and Marr have guitar sounds unquestionably their own, and Marr added some gravitas to Brock’s inability to musically sit still.
In the end, life’s greatest offense for the smart kid at back of the class is for the subject to grow dull, and 2015’s Strangers to Ourselves shows Brock not just mellowing out but — despite some of the old magic showing up on tracks like “Lampshades on Fire” — growing disinterested in the riotous dumpster fire he creates so naturally.
Modest Mouse plays with Mattress 8 pm Wednesday, May 24, at Cuthbert Amphitheater; $45 advance, $50 gate, all-ages.