Mogwai are a band that, if you just skim the reviews, are a simple group that uses the softLOUDsoft dynamic to their advantage. Depending on the review, “overuse” or “endlessly” can also crop up. But this Scottish band is a lot more than that simplistic reduction. They truly excel at creating passages of delicate beauty and thunderous rage, often in the same song, but also capable of isolating those elements successfully in single songs. “Stanley Kubrick” is a perfect example of the calm side of Mogwai, with the keening guitar lines of Stuart Braithwaite soaring over the top of the gently meandering song and Martin Bulloch’s economical drums keeping a loose rein, his trademark Celtic FC-styled green and white football scarf draped over his kit.
For those who place musical prowess as a key measuring stick of a band, it’s pretty clear that being able to play Mogwai’s material isn’t above the ability of most adequate bar bands. But it’s the combination of knowing what not to play and coming up with truly creative melody lines and emotionally charged passages that shows the band at the top of a peak very few bands come close to summiting. One of the perks of shooting a band from the photo pit is the obvious closeness to the action, but another advantage was that as one moved across the stage, it was very easy to hear each guitarist in an isolated fashion, and in doing so it was apparent how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In some ways, one could liken Mogwai to the poetry form of Haiku; simple on the surface, but difficult to write highly effective ones.
The band was in peak form, much better than the ATP show a few weeks ago. The difference is hard to pinpoint why, as the set list wasn’t radically different and this was just a one-off show rather than the capper of a great festival bill they curated. Just seconds into “I’m Dead, I’m Jim Morrison” someone yelled out “I’ve got an erection!” which coaxed a smile from Stuart. Ostensibly a show in support of 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, this show was previously canceled twice and enough time has passed so that the set list was spread out over all their releases, with just a third coming from it. Kinda bummed that “San Pedro” wasn’t one of them, but to hear songs like the aforementioned “Stanley Kubrick” and thunderous regular set closer of “Glasgow Megasnake” was more than a fair trade. Add in one of the sprawling epics (“Mogwai Fear Satan,” though “My Father, My King,” “Xmas Steps” or “Like Herod” could have easily sufficed) and a lovely reading of “Paths To New Helicon, Pt 1” as a finishing touch and it adds up to a completely satisfying show.
Opener Balam Acab had some confetti lava lamps, some gold statuettes, a mixing deck, and heaping dose of boredom. The vocals in particular were pretty annoying, a high-pitched tone that seemed to hint that somene’s helium supply had been raided. At the recent ATP, I saw Barry and Dominick enjoying sets from Umberto, Forest Swords and Demdike Stare, and those electronic acts made me pine against the wispy Balam Acab.