My wife takes her earplugs out mid-set, perhaps before. An hour after Mogwai have closed their Brighton Dome show with a furious, all-LEDs-ablaze rendition of ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, she turns to me, discomfort all over her face. “My ears are really ringing.” The same is true the next morning. I laugh, and can hear every nuance of my told-you-so smugness. The first rule of any Mogwai show, ladies and gentlemen: wear protection.
As I did, I can think straight – straight enough to appreciate that the Scottish crew’s latest south-coast concert might represent the best I’ve ever seen them. With three pairs of android lips suspended above them, switching between blues and reds as lights that flank the stage paint it all shades of Hades, the quintet eases into proceedings with the delicate ‘Heard About You Last Night’, track one on their 2014 LP, ‘Rave Tapes’ (review).
While they’re touring ostensibly in promotion of said eighth studio LP, as the posters for this run confirm, the band doesn’t outweigh an impressive catalogue with freshly realised arrangements. Across the night, there are just three cuts from that latest collection – the other selections being ‘Remurdered’ and ‘Deesh’ – allowing room enough for some serious canon exploration.
From the band’s ‘Young Team’ debut of 1997 comes that cacophonous climax, a track that almost 20 years (!) on from first exposure remains as powerfully tumultuous, a quarter-hour of tremendous power that could level cities if the decibels were nudged north just a touch. From 2006’s somewhat mixed ‘Mr. Beast’ LP are plucked pre-encore-closer ‘We’re No Here’ and ‘Travel Is Dangerous’; and from the recently reissued ‘Come On Die Young’ we’re treated to ‘Ex-Cowboy’, one of the first Mogwai tracks, for this fan’s money, to really stretch them beyond easy comparisons to Slint and their ilk.
I’m seated – I’m old – but the tip of each finger feels aflame throughout, and I wriggle in my flip-down chair as Mogwai’s tides of turbulence wash over an almost-full-house, moved against my frame’s request to rest. Below, bodies writhe, arms shoot aloft, and just a handful of pricks persistently toy with their smartphones, apparently oblivious to the show before them. Takes all sorts.
But then again, it is quite possible to love Mogwai while feeling removed from their physical presence. Even I drift off, slightly, during the encore – not through tiredness, but because of this music’s well-documented transportive qualities. I’ve an eye half-open for ‘Hunted By A Freak’, the stage seeming further away than it should be, the players out of focus, lights dancing and mixing. It’s a state you’d stay in, with pleasure, if only there wasn’t Real Life to deal with the next day.
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Mogwai. They’ve been a part of my life for as long as I’ve been listening to music as more than just a passing accompaniment to some other lifestyle choice; since I’ve actively set about making a career from sitting about with a bunch of records every day. Twenty years of cloud-bursting, emotions-engendering, lung-punching, ears-popping brilliance, with just the occasional dull thud of a misstep along the way.
It’s an incredible achievement, it really is, that this group of Glaswegians has conquered their own corner of the music world by barely uttering a word across so many albums, EPs and soundtracks. Not that the wife would hear them, even if Stuart did properly belt a vocal out.
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Words: Mike Diver
Photos: Andy Sturmey