Concert Review: Mogwai

Concert Review: Mogwai

Woe to anyone who schedules a show on a major holiday.

(Photo: K. Nauber)

Woe to anyone who schedules a show on a major holiday. I’d never put much thought into how oddly surreal it would be to see a band—a major band, no less—play on a holiday where everything shuts down so that people can spend a day with their families. I spent the lead-up to the show wondering if it would be an accidentally intimate affair, or if everybody would treat it like the movie theater after dinner is done and pack the place. As it turns out, it was closer to the former; when I arrived and asked what ticket sales looked like, I was informed that they’d sold roughly half of the venue’s 1400 capacity.

Inside the venue, I found a full balcony and a near-empty floor. This is to be expected; one can only imagine just about everyone at the show had some degree of Thanksgiving food in their stomachs and would opt to sit down for the show. As such, Xander Harris played his effortless-sounding spooky dark synth for roughly 30 people in front of him, all of whom basically stood still. That just isn’t right! Harris’ music-and-light combination is meant to be paired with writhing human bodies, not people still attempting to rally following a pumpkin pie stupor. Harris is American; I have to wonder how he felt about the turnout, and about playing a show that night.

Mogwai hails from Scotland, but they knew the deal. “Thank you all for coming out, we know it isn’t a typical gig night,” said Mogwai frontman Stuart Braithwaite when the band took the stage. It has been awhile since I last saw them play—I attended their show at the Wonder Ballroom on Cinco de Mayo 2011, funnily enough—and it feels as though they’ve put a lot more thought into presentation since that time. While the Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will tour presented a somewhat stripped back affair, this tour in support of Every Country’s Sun boasted gorgeous, simple light panel arrays that weren’t innovative by any means, but added a rich depth to the show.

At this point, any new Mogwai album is most likely going to sound like any other Mogwai album, and despite occupying half of the set, the songs from Every Country’s Sun felt the most half-baked. Chalk this up to being “the new batch” as much as you’d like, but the songs just didn’t sparkle in the same way as classics like “Mogwai Fear Satan” (here rendered as a punishing, awe-inspiring encore closer) or even “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead.” This is also the second time I’ve seen the band completely ignore Come on Die Young, which feels like an attempt to upsell every other album they’ve released—yes, even Young Team and Mr. Beast.

The night offered a delightful showcase for their moody, atmospheric shredding prowess, made better by the fact that Braithwaite and company just aren’t the flashiest of musicians, instead letting their technical chops keep the crowd rapt. Nevertheless, there was odd energy throughout the entire show, as though everyone in the room had one foot out the door even before Mogwai started playing—no matter how good they were, it just felt like something in the room was off. At the end of the day, though, Mogwai deserve credit for managing to draw roughly 700 tryptophan-filled people out of the house on Thanksgiving to get their hearing destroyed in such a worthy fashion.

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