“Let’s hear it for nice people who rock!” Brendan Lukens yells through a beaming smile near the end of Modern Baseball’s Edinburgh set. It might be hard to reconcile that Sesame Street-ish sentiment with MoBo’s sardonic punk-pop stylings, but in a way that simple slogan, an unintended offshoot of the group’s giggling on-stage banter, works as a mission statement of all they’ve come to represent.
After having to cancel a string of shows due to Lukens’ struggle with anxiety and depression in 2014 , Modern Baseball have come back with a new album and an iron-clad commitment to tearing the stigma off of mental illness and helping vulnerable people, doing their best to turn their gigs into safe havens for anyone that’s struggling. The signs asking fans not to crowdsurf to ensure everyone’s safety in such a small venue, the insistence on gender neutral toilets, the helpline that runs throughout the gig for anyone feeling unsafe: you can almost hear the grumblings of old punks bemoaning these whining, precocious millennials and their safe spaces and their micro-aggressions and back in my day we rocked hard and we didn’t care who got hurt goddamn it! But Mobo’s mantra comes without them having to sacrifice any of their snarl, a fact that shines through in the note posted to Facebook just before the gig about the crowdsurfing ban which closed with simply: “Deal with it. If it bothers you then sell your ticket. Have fun and don’t be an asshole.” Giving a shit hasn’t softened them one bit: they aren’t pulling any punches, just making sure they get thrown in the right direction.
The Mash House’s low-ceilinged basement room is packed out by the time it’s Modern Baseball’s turn and, with the stage still sunk in darkness, the trickling acoustic guitar of their newest album’s eponymous opener ‘Holy Ghost’ starts crawling out and Lukens drawling vocals begin to from out of the shadows. Within seconds every word is being echoed proudly back to him by the two hundred odd fans that fill the room. The support acts – MoBo drummer Sean Huber and William Lindsay’s two-man punk act Vicky Speedboat and Irish indie pop rockers The Winter Passing – both played great sets, getting a positive response from a crowd happy to turn up early and check them out. But MoBo’s effect is immediate and of another order. The lights go up and the band emerges, grinning widely and tearing instantly into thundering fan favourite ‘Fine, Great’. Like a cattle prod plunged into the belly of the room, the opening notes shock the whole place into life: the crowd swells forward, hands go up and feet leave the ground, within seconds they’re making the floor bounce.
The middle of the set mostly lets the energy relax down a little, simmering along while the band plays through a few of the lesser known tracks from ‘Holy Ghost’. They don’t ignite the room like the bigger numbers have but, standing back, you can spot the individual arms here and there that rocket up on hearing their personal favourite, all the more impassioned by the feeling that it’s being played just for them. Every time they do gear up for a real crowd-pleaser like ‘Tears over Beers’, there’s a visible glint in the eye and the beginnings of a smile on each band members face. They know they’ve got the room in the palm of their hands, they know that they can send it into a frenzy with a chord, and they’re enjoying it. But the power never seems to feed their ego and throughout the show they seem to be having as much fun as anyone else in the room, riffing off of the excitement of the crowd
For the encore they pull out one last big gun, firing off ‘Your Graduation’ to watch the room around them explode one last time. The song and the response are perfectly attuned to what the band and their gigs are about: the lyrics are pained and drenched in sarcasm, snarling over past regrets that still sting while the pounding drums and searing guitars stretch hopefully towards the future. If it’s never quite triumphant, there’s something powerfully undefeated in Modern Baseball’s music. Their songs are regularly about how shit things are, or have been, or likely will be again but rather than retreating into yourself to suffer in it, they call you out to shout it, and laugh a little at it, and tear towards tomorrow where maybe things get better. It’s the music of people who have been to dark places and come back, reaching out a hand to help pull others up with them, and it’s an extraordinary thing to witness.
This Modern Baseball article was written by Ross McIndoe, a GIGsoup contributor