Modest Mouse and Twiddle: Darkness, Light and The World At Large

by Caleb Calhoun

Photos by Scott Shrader

It’s the fall of 2004 and I am sitting in my dorm room at Baptist Bible College studying dispensational eschatology for a test the next day. I’ve recently begun smoking marijuana, on the DL, to help cope with the death of my sister, and the things I have been taught for the last 21 years of my life are no longer making any sense.

A friend of mine swings by my room and tosses me Good News for People Who Love Bad News. “This will rock your world,” he tells me. I had never heard of Modest Mouse, but three hours later I would be curled up in fetal tuck position, track four on repeat on my discman, weeping as I listened to Isaac Brock sing over and over and over again, “For your sake I hope heaven and hell, are really there but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

Two months after that I would in fact “pack my belongings and head for the coast,” a lifetime left behind, a lifetime yet to find.


Fast forward to April 26, 2018. The once would be baptist preacher is wearing a dress and carrying a typewriter and covering the music scene. Tonight is a double-header, Modest Mouse at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium>Twiddle at The Orange Peel. Oh yeah, and it’s Thursday… welcome to Asheville kiddos.

Lucy and I are planning on covering this right, on finding a way to bridge the gap between the post-punk indie-rock crowd and the east coast jam scene. I’ve never seen Twiddle before, and have only seen Modest Mouse once, so I am excited about both.

Modest Mouse is the earlier show, they are scheduled on at 9:15 and I arrive in time to catch a bit of the opener, Mass Gothic, before taking my seat for good. TWolfe is a fully seated venue and the security situation can be a crapshoot. Tonight someone must have put something in the water backstage though, because most of the staff are bouncing, singing along, and, looking the other way as more and more of us find ourselves moving towards the front.

They open the set with World at Large and Poison the Well before breaking off a massive, moving Cowboy Dan. They are flowing from eerie to screamo as only Modest Mouse can, the early song choices letting the crowd know that tonight is not going to be a night for the hits. No, tonight the Asheville crowd will get the respect it deserves with plenty of deeper cuts.

I see the crowd crushing forward and move on down myself. As they head in to what must be the heaviest version of Dashboard ever played I find myself two rows back, directly in front of Brock, and shaking my ass like a wet dog. The crowd is different, not entirely what I am used to, and I definitely feel like the only wook in sea of Brooks Brothers.


The group around me swells as they give us Bukowski and King Rat, and somewhere in the middle of Lampshade I turn around because someone else smells like human and not Victoria’s Secret. She isn’t hard to find, and her and her fiance come over by me so we can all share all of the smells to go along with the sights and sounds.

But by the time they hit Dramamine and Best Room the entire crowd is a sweaty mess. We are finding ourselves closer and closer to one another, the energy malevolently beautiful. The darkness that Modest Mouse spills from their voices and their instruments, buoyed by the depth of their song-writing and technical precision is wearing us out, but we don’t care. This is what we came for – not for unified happiness but for the doctor to peel back the layers of our souls and confront us with our true likenesses.

They finish out the set with Baby Blue Sedan and Sugar Boats, two b-sides from completely different eras, and then retire for a short break before the encore. The crowd is going wild for more music and it’s one of the loudest weekday encore chants I have ever heard. After what seems like an eternity they return to the stage with a powerful Bury Me With It that steals what is left of most of our voices.

Then Brock, who has been in a conversational mood all evening speaks again.

“We have feelings you know,” he tells the crowd. “And all of my feelings,” he explains while pointing to the soundhole on his guitar, “are in this little hole I have blocked off right here.”

Then without another word they launch into The Ocean Breathes Salty, a song that holds perhaps more significance in my life than any other. I can feel the tears streaming down my face as I press my hand into my chest and fight for enough of a voice to sing along.


They finish the encore with Here’s to Now, and retire, but the crowd isn’t finished yet. The chanting begins again and, once again they oblige us, playing Strangers to Ourselves into Spitting Venom.

They begin to take their instruments off once more but the crowd is willing them into one more song. Clearly enjoying himself Isaac, with his guitar halfway off, leans forward to the mic and asks his band mates if they want to play another.

The crowd roars as they finish with A Different City, and I high-tail it out of there to walk the half a mile or so down the The Orange Peel for Twiddle’s second set. The tears on my face have dried but the lines are still visible as I trudge through the windy, mountain midnight. I’m not sure I want the back-end of this double header any more. Modest Mouse is like good lsd – if it doesn’t fuck with you at least a little then you got the wrong stuff.

Consider me fucked with. And if Modest Mouse fucked with my head, it takes all of twenty seconds after walking in to the OP for Twiddle to hug my heart. The place resonates with some kind of holy happiness that even my current darkness can’t overpower.

JSS_5984-EditThe Brooks Brothers shirts are gone, replaced by hetti hats and third eye pinecones, and the smells are quite a bit more, shall we say, natural. Not that I felt judged at Modest Mouse, but you could show up to this show in a chicken outfit with a Trump wig and no one would even look at you funny. Shit, they would probably ask where you got it and if you wanted to trade it for a shaman-blessed crystal.

Twiddle’s music is the personification of their fan base. Playful and quietly energetic, the improvisation sounds less like a conversation and more like a game of tag or hide-and-go-seek. The tears that were falling at Modest Mouse are completely forgotten for the moment.

They head into Brown Cow, Brown Chicken, a true Twiddle masterpiece that they continue to refuse to record. Like the Modest Mouse show Twiddle understands that the nearly sold-out Thursday night crowd in Asheville is about as intelligent of a group as they will find, and they are rewarding us with their very best work.

After a heavy Wilson tease that has the Asheville Phish contingent gushing, they take us into Blunderbuss. It’s well past 1am and I know there isn’t that much time left for them to play but I am here alone and need to make some friends so I head outside for a few.

Let’s just say, if you need new friends, do yourself a favor and go on Twiddle tour. The patio is a veritable dog park for humans, everyone trying to meet and talk to and hug and (in some cases give chase to) as many other humans as they can. People are passing things around while strangers keep an eye out for security. Beings are making plans for the whole summer with friends they met five minutes ago.


There are also a hell of a lot of people here that I was just dancing with up front at Modest Mouse.

I head back in just as the set draws to a close and wait with the others for an encore. It’s 1:27 and they don’t have much time, so what do they do?

Abbreviate a jam? I don’t think so. Instead they surprise the entire audience with a fucking romp of a La Bamba that coaxes everyone to shake those last few shakes out of their bones and somehow causes the patrons to smile even more broadly.

As it all finally winds down, and I head back home to try to collect my thoughts I can’t help but arrive at the conclusion that our preferences are all so subjective. I like steak and someone else only eats tofu. I like iced tea and someone else drinks it hot.

But it’s the space between like and dislike, between me and you, where our differences make way for common ground and true happiness is generally found. Tonight was a reminder for me that music is so much bigger than any of us, that it can touch our souls in such powerful and varied ways. Tonight was a reminder that only by being willing to open yourself up to things that are outside of your comfort zone can you ever truly learn to appreciate The World at Large.

Caleb Calhoun is an author, poet and journalist living in Asheville, NC. You can follow all of his work on facebook at

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