Live Review: Pixies, Modest Mouse, Sterling Heights, MI, June 18, 2024

“Isn’t this fuckin’ lousy for you? The sun is right in your face,” Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock mused to the crowd.

Michigan, among many other Midwestern states, has been enduring an absolutely ridiculous heatwave for more than a week. It’s been brutal enough that even the powers that be at the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre have taken enough pity on concertgoers that they will allow us to bring two factory-sealed water bottles into the venue. Up to one gallon each! (But don’t freeze them. You can’t be both hydrated and refreshed.)

Brock was right, though; the sun’s oppressive heat beat down on us poor fans for much of Modest Mouse’s set. I knew it would be hot, and with my buddy’s AC being out in his car, I opted to dress for comfort over style. So I threw on the only pair of shorts that I own and a pair of Birkenstocks. These sandals are supposed to be some of the most comfortable footwear that money can buy because they purportedly mold to your feet. Except it’s more comfortable standing on concrete, and you spend half a band’s set worrying that some scenester will crush your pinky toe with their Doc Martens. Lesson learned: Don’t wear Birkenstocks in the pit. Or maybe don’t wear them at all.

Perhaps Isaac Brock is some kind of shaman or sun god, because as soon as he took a moment to acknowledge the sun-battered audience, clouds obscured the unforgiving source of heat and offered us a brief reprieve. Brock seemed so impressed with himself that he started the second song of the night, “3rd Planet,” in the wrong key. Whatever, mistakes happen. And how can you be mad at someone who just controlled the damn weather?

The thing about a Modest Mouse show is, when the band is on, it is on. Thankfully, in Sterling Heights on this hot June evening, the group was firing on all cylinders. Its set—dedicated to Portland punk band Poison Idea—began with “The Stars Are Projectors,” a nearly nine-minute epic from 2000’s The Moon & Antarctica. This song has been a staple for many sets on this tour, so naturally fans are speculating that this is in preparation for a Moon & Antarctica 25th anniversary tour. Time will tell.

Brock had to be sweltering under the blazing stage lights, but with his white collared shirt and blazer, the sweat only made him look like some kind of feverishly possessed satanic preacher. At one point, during a staggering 12-minute version of “Cowboy Dan,” Brock pasted two guitar picks to his forehead to look like horns. It was as if he opened the gates of hell for 60 minutes to perform for the great people of metro Detroit. It can’t be overstated just how tight Modest Mouse was on this stop.

If it isn’t clear yet: On a good night, Modest Mouse is a tough act to follow. The Pixies played a taut hour and 20 minutes, starting their set around 40 minutes after Modest Mouse called it a night. I’ve been a student of Frank, Joey, David and Kim—and, now, Emma—for nearly 22 years. I vividly remember buying Doolittle at 15 years old from a local Best Buy, based solely on the cover and the recommendation from a friend. (“You’ll shit your pants when you hear ‘Debaser,’” she said. Fortunately, I didn’t.) Between sets, I was easily persuaded into shelling out 40 bucks for a “Tame”-themed baseball hat at the merch booth.

During the Pixies’ set, a family posted up directly in front of me. In a past life, I would have said something, but they (or at least the mom) seemed so genuinely excited to be there that I decided to forgive this concert-going faux pas. The mom, in a cutoff Pixies tank top, had clearly convinced her teenage son and her partner to come along to the show. She danced, jauntily, in and out of the pit, while her son and partner hung back. My view of the stage was obstructed by the back of her son’s head, and I tried my best to remain unbothered. Her partner’s death grip on his water bottle was such that, by the time the band played the live debut of latest single “You’re So Impatient,” the translucent blue Aquafina wrapping was in a crumpled pile at his feet. Where was his mind?

The penultimate song of the evening was, actually, “Where Is My Mind?” (formerly known as “The Song From Fight Club” and now known as “The Song From TikTok”). As soon as Frank Black Francis began strumming the opening chords, all the 20-somethings in the audience made themselves known and held up their phones in tribute. As I looked around at the sea of people illuminated by the glow of their phones, it occurred to me that this is the new generation’s version of the cigarette lighter. It’s still highly addictive, but free of carcinogens. Progress!

By the time Pixies wrapped up their version of Neil Young’s “Winterlong,” my feet were screaming. I enviously noted the sensibility of the Brooks and New Balance running shoes that adorned the feet of my fellow men as I hobbled back to the car, not even pausing to remove the rock that wedged itself between my heel and the sole of my Birkenstock. Stopping for even a second would’ve just prolonged the ache that had spread from my feet to my knees, and unlike the music, I couldn’t wait for the walk to be over.

—Jacob Paul Nielsen; photos by Joel Harris