Never Ending Math Equation

World-weary wanderers seethe and spit in several shades

Modest Mouse

Irving Plaza

February 4

Two narratives wrestled at Modest Mouse’s show two weeks ago. There was the same old story: singer-guitarist Isaac Brock as world-weary wanderer, so restless he circles the globe, always arriving where he started. But layered over this fable—maybe buoying it—was a sense of change. Brock usually leads shows clenched, trembling. He screams into his guitar pickup, so as to filter the sound down to a fine static, drowning himself out, or perhaps trying to drown out his guitar. At Irving, pitter-pattering in a military cap and cowboy shirt, he seemed relaxed. “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Capri Lounge,” he said, sitting down at the keyboard to play a gentle new number, studded with bah-bah-bah-bah-bahs, about life “caught in the undertow.” This off the spectacular album due in early April, Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Good news, bad news—what’s the story?

Brock may’ve been loose, but his set sounded grimy as ever, with spiraling sandpapery twang grinding on Tyson-swinging beats, crunk-punk shot through with hillbilly. (The new drummer stepped right into the last guy’s boots.) And Brock’s voice: flowing from earnest to arch in a line’s time, whether in wavery touching falsetto, swaggering raps, gravelly singsong, uncategorizable utterances, or explosive ranting shouts. Sometimes he harrumphed into a vox-distorting mic for yet more texture.

Many hated on MM’s last album, their clean-psych major label debut; these douches exchanged high-fives for cracked chestnuts like “Doin’ the Cockroach,” and remained rapt for raw renditions of recent stuff. Alongside the requisite indie kids stood stoners, dreadlocked hipster-hippies, hip-hoppers. Various b&w clips were projected on a big screen: collapsing buildings, in reverse; monkeys dressed as Indians and cowboys; a baby snow leopard gnawing on a carcass.

The new stuff sounded sunniest, mostly; but born of the band’s bliss-shit helix, their DNA of circular strings and lost-in-wanderlust, they seethe in a thousand shades. During the forthcoming disc’s title track, in which Brock fears the end of the world, he bellowed, “I just don’t need none of that Mad Max bullshit!” —Nick Catucci

Four decades after Britain invaded, Colin Blunstone climbs toward the clouds

The Zombies

B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

February 11

It’s midway through the Zombies’ two-hour show at B.B. King’s last Wednesday, and Colin Blunstone has reached back across several decades and incarnations for a track from his 1973 solo album, Ennismore. “I don’t believe in miracles,” he sings the title-lined chorus, his voice cracking with the same gauzy fragility associated with such Zombies classics as “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.”

But then he repeats the line, powerfully soaring ever upward in range until he’s broken through to a whole new sonic and emotional plateau. I’m thinking, here’s a guy who in 1969 had gotten so frustrated with the music business (the Zombies had already broken up when “Time of the Season” hit) that for a while he became an insurance company clerk.

A performer who ever since has often needed to be coaxed back into the recording studio (appearances on assorted Alan Parsons Project albums) or onto a stage (select stateside shows in ’99 and ’02) to share one of the most distinctive voices in all of pop music. Seeing Blunstone now, in 2004, with his old mate and bandleader, keyboardist Rod Argent, spurring him on—and in the very week of the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ debut on Ed Sullivan that set the entire British Invasion in motion, no less—one can almost believe in miracles.

Like their spiritual ’60s cousins in the U.S., Arthur Lee and Love, the Zombies have been rediscovered by a whole new generation of listeners who have found in their work—and in particular their still-shining-brightly 1968 gem, Odessey and Oracle—intelligent, innovative music that remains both definitive for its time and definitively timeless.

A full half-dozen of that dauntingly ambitious album’s songs were on the New York set list, including the ever haunting, classically edged parlor piece “A Rose for Emily”; the wistful, Procol Harum-ish “Beechwood Park”; and the buoyant “Care of Cell 44” and “I Want Her She Wants Me,” both of which beat the Paul McCartney side of Sgt. Pepper’s at its own game. Did then, did now.

Take it from me: Re-animation never sounded so good. —Billy Altman