3rd February | Colston Hall
Photos: Hannah Rooke
There are words in this confusing age that get bandied around so much that they tend to shed their original meaning and take on a far more derivative, or simply incorrect, connotation. ‘Literally’ is one, ‘unbelievable’ is another; however the word I’d like to bring up here is ‘epic’. The Lord of the Rings trilogy? – yes; Moby Dick? – yes; a woman filming herself, sustaining injury from a failed pole fitness routine? – a (humorous) failure no doubt, but no, not an epic one.
Mogwai’s set at Colston Hall last Saturday was epic. After a rousing support slot from fellow Glaswegians, Out Lines, who released their debut LP, Conflats through Mogwai’s label Auto Rock, the stage was set for the post-rock behemoths to show what kind of fruits that more than two decades of noise-making experience can bear. Nice, big, juicy, epic ones, it turns out.
Right from the first guitar plucks of ‘Crossing the Road Material’, track four from the latest album, Every Country’s Sun, through to the apocalyptic set closer, ‘We’re No Here’, there was almost no room for any thought other than ‘Holy shit!’. And this reaction was not confined to sonics alone, as seeing Mogwai is truly an audio-visual experience, with the lighted staging screens resembling two giant geometric wings, guiding the audience’s perception with pulses of light synced to the music, like some technicolor avian deity.
And deific is certainly an appropriate term for the band themselves, both in terms of their near-mythological cult status and raw musical power. A power displayed most obviously on the track ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, during which the band had lulled the sold-out crowd into a rapturous silence with the delicate first five minutes, to then explode with such massive energy and volume that you would be forgiven for thinking that someone had started a nuclear fission reaction.
Another highlight was the fourth track from the set, ‘Killing All The Flies’, the dynamic arc of which felt like the slow-motion soundtrack to a humpback whale as it picks up speed approaching the ocean’s surface, to then breach majestically into the outside world for a few long, glorious seconds and then return, satisfied, into the serene blueness below. One of only three songs from the set with vocals on, it was a reminder that when used economically, they can add something properly special to an instrumental band’s repertoire.
One slight worry I had during the build-up to this show involved how Colston Hall’s acoustics would deal with Mogwai’s gargantuan wall of sound, as loud bands can easily lose themselves in their own reverberations. This worry was dispelled right from the opener, however, and was completely reversed by the fifth track, ‘Coolverine’, another recent single, which was as crisp and clear as it is on the record, and wholly more impressive. During this track in particular, it was hard, as a fellow drummer, not to be envious of Martin Bulloch’s cavernous kit, thundering through the venue.
Every band member had a hero moment during this set. Cheerfully enigmatic front man (of sorts) Stuart Braithwaite’s was the opening riff to ‘Rano Pano’, a sort of ‘guitar army’ take on an old nursery rhyme melody, and multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns’ guitar on the titular track from Every Country’s Sun was truly arresting. Material from the new album is also where bassist Dom Aitchison’s moment to shine came, with the amusingly named ‘Don’t Believe The Fife’ showcasing some tastefully-restrained playing during the quieter first couple of minutes.
That the group are willing to dedicate half of their set to this latest album after releasing eight others is surely a testament to the trust in their own musicianship, and based on this show, I would trust them with just about anything else as well.