Modest Mouse have gone through a lot of changes in the past few years. They've doubled in number, broken through to the mainstream with "Float On," and most recently hit number one on the Billboard album charts with their latest full-length, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. It's been years since Modest Mouse were a Seattle band, but the Sunday, April 15, show at the Paramount had the air of a triumphant homcoming.

For all the band has gone through, it was a pleasure to see that Isaac Brock's performance hasn't changed much over the years—he still screams into his guitar, he still mumbles and fumbles his lyrics and words between songs, he still knocks over microphones and looses untimely squalls of feedback. At one point, he appeared to drop from the stage into the crowd, though it was hard to tell from where I was standing. All this is great because it means there's still room at the top for unprofessional geniuses at a time when the music business feels pretty safe and mediated.

The stage at the Paramount was cluttered with two giant drum kits, a stand-up bass, keyboards, guitars, microphones, and a lighting rig that looked like a forest—or maybe a gallows—of maritime lamps. Fittingly, Brock and Johnny Marr took opposite sides of the stage, and they would prove to balance each other throughout the show. Marr's a gifted, inventive guitarist, but his playing doesn't really stand out on We Were Dead against all the other players and Brock's distinctive style. But during a long pause before the second verse of "Paper Thin Walls," when Marr and Brock met midstage to exchange inaudible words before the hushed crowd, Marr's role in the band became perfectly clear. His secret talent isn't his virtuosic guitar playing, but rather his ability to act as the cool foil to excessive frontmen like Morrissey or Brock. His practiced rock gestures and steady playing were a much-needed counter for Brock's nervous tics and unpredictable mayhem.

The band's set was an even mix of old and new material, reaching back only as far as their 1997 masterpiece, The Lonesome Crowded West. Brock's vocals were occasionally overpowered by the band (as on "Black Cadillacs"), omitted for large stretches ("Tiny Cities Made of Ashes"), or replaced by unintelligible improvisations ("Trailer Trash," "We've Got Everything"), but that sort of thing, not to mention the lisping slur, is part of Brock's charm. During their encore, Brock held the rapt attention of the entire room with some a cappella ranting at the end of "Spitting Venom," the hush broken only by occasional cheers and some guy shouting, "I love you, Isaac."

The rest of the band was tight enough to carry Brock's diversions, although all the instrumental manpower sometimes threatened the quiet moments of their older songs. Joe Plummer and Jeremiah Green provided lockstep rhythms, occasionally breaking out of sync to add layers of extra percussion. Eric Judy is as solid a bass player as ever, and Tom Peloso's trumpet, keys, and stand-up bass allowed the band to re-create the more nuanced moments from their albums. Marr is, of course, untouchable.

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As odd as it is to think about Modest Mouse—that awkwardly brilliant band from Issaquah—topping the charts after more than a decade of making music together, it makes perfect sense seeing them live. What's really odd is that it took so long. recommended

egrandy@thestranger.com