There was a noticeable contrast Tuesday night between Brand New and Modest Mouse at the bands' joint tour stop at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.

The former, which played first as the sun still scorched, seemed like an act nearing its end, while the latter displayed a convincing gusto, making the case that there's still plenty in the tank. Bound by a shared moodiness set to muscular alternative rock, both sets coalesced just enough to justify the pairing.


Brand New, the emo-grunge savants from Long Island, N.Y., have grown more enigmatic with each album, from 2001's pop-punk-a-thon "Your Favorite Weapon" to 2009's creepy "Daisy." As Tuesday's set proved, they are also noisier and more serious than ever, which worked in some spots (the two-man version of "Play Crack the Sky" between singer Jesse Lacey and guitarist Vincent Accardi at the start of the encore) and not in others (the energetic new single "I Am a Nightmare" lacked the recorded track's fun and bounce).

As Brand New has distanced itself from early success (2003's "Deja Entendu" remains one of the finest albums in emo history), the band has become more musically introverted. They drastically left behind the catchy choruses and singalong refrains, and replaced them with harsh, soft-to-loud dynamics and a post-grunge sound indebted to Nirvana and other agitated '90s alt-rock acts.

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In the process, their playing style became loose, while Lacey's vocals grew more strained and full-throated. Recent Brand New material builds tension until the climax boils over, and in concert, the results are loud, jolting and rough around the edges.

A fan favorite like "Sic Transit Gloria … Glory Fades" is only effective with Lacey's precise phrasing and the band's locked-in playing, but in the hands of this Brand New, it felt rushed and tossed off. The sloppiness imbued in new songs had unfortunately bled into the old.

Not that Brand New seemed to care. Their career — which could be coming to an end (T-shirts on sale read "Brand New 2000-2018") — has become more about challenging audiences (some would argue defying them, really) than appeasing them, which explains why the setlist lacked some of their biggest hits.

Lacey, who wore a Jerry Garcia T-shirt and teal Patagonia baseball hat, seemed to acknowledge this after announcing the band had a 7-inch vinyl record and cassette for sale.

"We like to put out really inconvenient forms of physical music," Lacey said with a smirk.

As the sun went down, Brand New appeared to improve with each song. "1996," a strong B-side that finds Lacey singing like Morrissey, was bolstered by the precision earlier songs were lacking. "Jesus Christ," a catalog standout, had an enchanting, quiet confidence.

For the finale, Lacey worked in lyrics from "Tatou," the opening track from "Deja Entendu" into newer song "You Won't Know," essentially teasing the crowd with material many wished the band had played. That's not how Brand New operates, and if this is its final tour, the band can say it stayed true to itself to the very end — without regard for whether it disappoints longtime listeners.

After Brand New's performance, the exuberance and efficiency of Modest Mouse felt striking.

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From the opening notes of "The World at Large," the eight-piece made its mission clear — get the crowd moving.

It didn't take long for the audience to perk up as singer Isaac Brock led the Portland-based band through tracks old ("A Different City," "Trailer Trash") and new ("Lampshades on Fire," "The Tortoise and the Tourist").

Welcomed elements like Tom Peloso's horns and backing vocals from Lisa Molinaro added to the dynamics. At no point did the band sound tighter as a unit than during "Dashboard," a propulsive highlight from 2007's "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank."

Still, this was Brock's show, and the charismatic frontman delivered his strangely soothing vocals, along with solid guitar and banjo work. Tracks from the band's mainstream breakthrough album, 2004's "Good News for People Who Love Bad News," like "This Devil's Workday" and "Satin in a Coffin" showed Brock's unmistakable vocal performances remain the glue holding the songs together.


Modest Mouse also wears levity better than its tourmates. The band followed its biggest hit, "Float On," with a jarring, full-band freak-out with an unprintable name (we'll call it "Luck") from 1997. The sly one-two punch served as a reminder bands are often most charming when they don't take themselves so seriously.

Fittingly, the band closed the night and its four-song encore with the bass-driven shout-along, "Fire It Up."

"Fire it up, Fire it up! / When we finally turn it over / make a B-line towards the border / Have a drink, you've had enough," Brock sang.

The crowd had slightly thinned out on the lawn, which afforded fans the space to skip, twirl and dance as Brock's voice rang out through the speakers. The audience, which mostly politely head-banged in place for Brand New, finally had their chance to let loose.