Monumental, colossal, awe-inspiring, cinematic. This is just a hint of the usual descriptive terminology which accompanies Mogwai releases and live shows, and as 2014 is the year of Edinburgh’s legendary Usher Hall’s centenary celebrations it seemed only fitting that the uncontested fathers of post-rock experimentalism, should bless this esteemed venue with their aforementioned, sprawling majesty. It began with five words, “Hello we’re Mogwai from Glasgow”…
Famed for their intensely loud live performances and distorted soundscapes it came as something of a surprise that Mogwai somehow seemed, at times, to be dwarfed by the venue. The large columns which flank the stage and the enormously high, decorative ceilings seem ill-suited to hosting modern music events. There is something a touch atmosphere-sapping about, what feels tonight, to be an overly spacious setting. No doubt, when Mogwai hit their blistering stride, with strobes, frenetic guitar playing and a stage set heavily indebted to the fantastic artwork from their brand new, 8th studio album ‘Rave Tapes’, the venue is at the full mercy of their violent, noisy caress. However, some of the real beauty in Mogwai’s music exists in the quieter, more intimate and subtle sections of their songs and sadly it is these moments which are particularly affected by the sheer scale of the Usher Hall.
Another issue which sadly marred the evening was the crowd. Needless to say the age range was vast given the twenty years the band have had to amass a fanbase but a notable demographic quickly emerged. Beards were the norm, glasses were optional; socialism was not. While one pre-pubescent couple had clearly got lost en-route to their bedroom the more aged in attendance, who didn’t seem to have realised the Jesus & Mary Chain had split up, danced like drunk uncles, embraced their evening hippie and then shuffled off early to get to their cars ‘ahead of the rush’. Without doubt the most polite and restrained crowd I’ve ever had the misfortune of being part of, people seemed really set on preserving their personal space. One man even sat down.
While these factors sadly detracted from the overall impression of the show, it would be a horrible injustice to Mogwai not to acknowledge their skill and presence as a band. When Mogwai play, there is a genuine sense of ‘happening’, somehow they manage to transcend usual concert status and their shows take on the life force of a genuinely special occurrence. This certainly mirrors the emotional intensity which is so prevalent throughout their back catalogue of work. There were genuinely emotional moments throughout the show, moments in which the crowd was united with the flicker of a smile and a guarded appreciation of the grandeur of their explosive crescendos. This is doubtless testament to Mogwai’s musicianship and on the night they were absolutely flawless. Stuart Braithwaite was a man possessed at times as the band smashed through hits like ‘We’re No Here’ and ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’. It is refreshing to see bands not dead set on playing sets made up purely of new songs and the Glasgow 5-piece certainly recognised that fact, drawing tracks from seven of their eight albums, with only four songs being taken from ‘Rave Tapes’.
There is beauty in the tranquillity of their slower more subdued stuff and absolute sonic bliss in the fuzzy explosions they so enjoy. While the show as a whole was by no means perfect, musically it was pretty close. When the band ripped back into life one third of the way through the 16-minute epic, ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, it is by no means an exaggeration to claim that it was a moment of true awe. Other set highlights included new electronically driven track ‘Remurdered’ and set closer ‘Batcat’.
It’s easy to find fault in the venue and in the crowd, but then again maybe those faults were just so glaringly obvious because Mogwai are just so bloody good.
Words: Leo Bargery