An early show is almost never early. It always seems to stay up past its bedtime. So despite the intended 8 p.m. start for the first night of Mode Moderne’s Strange Bruises East Coast Tour, the inhabitants of The Biltmore stood idle till well past nine. If one had hoped that the fashionable crowds were merely running behind schedule, they would have been disappointed; on this night, the best the Biltmore could muster was a half-empty hall. But with Mode Moderne’s morose reputation and hauntingly familiar sound, the spacious atmosphere was perhaps a more suitable venue for them to sing their somber tunes.
Draped in coloured smoke and a dim glare, like traffic lights through fog, opener Dead Ghosts set the stymied crowd in motion. Dishing out ditties such as “1000 Joints” and “I Want You Back,” their grungy surf rock, reminiscent of bands like Wavves and Black Lips, bathed the audience in the warm rays of the sun. Notwithstanding this comparison, Dead Ghosts sound is far from wholly defined from such revivalism.
Although at times it seemed as if the audience was locked within a conch shell, unable to escape the echo chamber created by their occasionally over amplified reverb, a dance hall edge succeeded in cutting through their entire set. Bryan Nicols erratic vocal droning blasted the floor with sand and glass and made us all trip the light fantastic.
Upon Mode Moderne’s procession onto the stage, the crowd was cast into an uncertain limbo. Smaller than it had been during the opener, a subtle indecision could be felt whether it was dancing or brooding that the crowd should be engaged in. The reputation Mode Moderne has made for themselves over the past few years has left them with an overemphasized, superficial comparison to bands of the 1980s. To the casual listener, Phillip Intilé’s beautifully monotone voice and on-stage eccentricities place him and his band in the shadow of the late Joy Division.
But Mode Moderne is so much more than a casual throw back. Clinton Lofkrantz’s driving bass lines and Felix Fung’s pinching guitar riffs on songs such as “Real Goths” and “Electrocute Me,” accompanied by Rebecca Law Gray’s soft piano and calming voice, are refreshing in a way that bands out of the 1980’s never were, and never could be. Mode Moderne is an ensemble of times both past and present.
Playing the title track off their new album, “Strange Bruises,” sent a current through the crowd that stood hairs on end. No longer did the spatial arena puzzle us; this music was meant to be grooved to. And with Intilé’s captivating stage presence, wrapping himself around the mike like Freddy Mercury or Robert Plant, Mode Moderne has a personality that is not often seen locally, or from less-known groups.
Evocative of contemporary bands such as the Drums, it is apparent that there is a place for this type of music, for there is always space for good music. It is a shame that their most complimentary comparison to Joy Division works as much for them as it does against them. For many listeners it may be a similarity that will be hard look past, and ultimately one that could stunt Mode Moderne’s growth.