A couple of weeks ago Glaswegian masters of post-rock Mogwai came to town to play a three-night weekend residency at the Academy venue on Abbey Street, Dublin. I went to all three as the Mogwai live experience is like no other. I’ve been to a lot of gigs and only My Bloody Valentine can equal the sheer intensity of a Mogwai gig. As a friend said at one of the three gigs – Mogwai never disappoint. It’s true. I’ve seen them eleven times now and they just get better and better. If you go a lot of gigs the thrill of live music can dissipate over time but going to a Mogwai gig is like going to a gig again for the first time. It’s a visceral, immersive, musically dynamic experience. The strange sounds they wrangle from their guitars. The precise strangely hypnotic drumming. A back catalogue so rich that there is rarely a fear of a mid-set slump. The volume levels that make your ear-drums swell inside your head, though if truth be told, they’re not as loud as they once were (I was completely deaf for a few hours after seeing them for the first time in 2001). These days, they’re still loud but it’s a contained, structured loudness – not just loud for loudness sake.
But what’s most unique about them is that they’re not slaves to fashion or fads or styles. They don’t have any other agenda. They never appear in their own videos. They’re so ordinary looking even their own fans wouldn’t recognise them on the street. It’s ALL about the music and these gigs just accentuated how gifted they are. They varied the setlist so much that they ended up playing over twenty-five different songs over the three nights. Friday night they rolled out the ear-bleeders: ‘Like Herod’ then ‘Batcat’ and a rare outing for ‘My Father, My King’ as a encore. A shimmering ‘Helicon 1’ is one of the highlights of Saturday’s gig while Sunday night is a quieter affair, with some nice revisits to their bleak masterpiece from 1999 ‘Come On Die Young’
For a band that provide little or no vocals, no visual accompaniment, no rock-star histrionics, no bona fide ‘frontman’ and not much banter with the audience, it’s near-miraculous that they can still be so utterly compelling for two hours. It’s the beauty of the music, each piece of music structured as a musical crescendo that takes you on a journey, however corny that may sound. If each song is carefully and precisely structured for full emotional impact, then the gig as a whole has clearly defined pattern also. With that strategic set-list they keep you in suspense, teasing you with all their more downbeat, gloriously brooding tracks, lulling you into a kind of aural comfort zone until that big, destructive, apocalyptic maelstrom of guitars and drums and squealing feedback at the end that leaves you stunned and floored. It’s a strangely addictive experience. Three nights were not enough.
The Precipice/Small Children In The Background/Friend Of The Night/Scotland’s Shame/Travel Is Dangerous/Hunted By A Freak/Thank You, Space Expert/Summer/I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead/Killing All The Flies/Like Herod/Batcat/My Father, My King
I’m Jim Morrison,I’m Dead/Friend Of The Night/TN/Scotland’s Shame/I Know Who You Are But What Am I/Ithica/Thank You, Space Expert/Travel Is Dangerous/Hunted By A Freak/Helicon 1/2 Rights Make One Wrong/Ratts Of The Capital/Batcat/Kids Will Be Skeletons/Mogwai Fear Satan
Autorock/Hunted By A Freak/Cody/May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door/I Love you, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School/I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead/Christmas Steps/Scotland’s Shame/Friend Of The Night/Killing All The Flies/Thank You, Space Expert/We’re No Here/ You Don’t Know Jesus/Glasgow Megasnake