It’s been less than a fortnight since guitarist Pete Townshend warned Generation iPod about the dangers of loud music and hearing damage, and what do I go and do? Something far worse…
Scotland’s Mogwai have been delivering their doses of instrumental mood swings for over a decade now, and only subtle successive changes to their formula have helped to maintain both fan base and street cred. With new material on the horizon, one of Mogwai’s early tour stops is a week-long residence at the ICA in London’s Charing Cross; each night featuring a different set of support acts.
I popped along for the first night and was treated to looping, effect-laden guitars, dual clarinets and chanting from opener Alexander Tucker. Without leaving the stage, Part Chimp joined Tucker and acknowledged the versusclause of the billing by injecting the volume that would prep the audience for Mogwai. The whole thing descended into a violently trippy jam, with Tucker and co. dropping out half way only to return later. I’d seen Part Chimp before and wasn’t won over. This experiment however, worked quite well for a lot of time—the parts where Part Chimp weren’t on their own anyway. The bassist looked a lot like Slash, which was very rock ‘n’ roll.
When Mogwai reach the stage the deserved support band claps turn into football terrace cheers, and Mogwai kick off straight into a new—and heavy—track.
Nearly half of the songs performed were new, yet—being a band that doesn’t need to rely on audience hook and chorus recollection—they were accepted with no complaint. Even with no debut album belt outs, Mogwai kept their sold-out crowd (alleged to have Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale in its midst) enthralled with traditional choices and some rare offerings. I accept that “enthralled” for a band like Mogwai doesn’t mean Justin Hawkins rock posturing, nor is there much crowd interaction (save for thank yous and an acknowledgement of an on stage cock-up), but with a rich catalogue like theirs, the loyal audience is spoiled enough in this intimate setting.
To prove that accidental public image Stuart Braithwaite is not the centerpiece, Barry Burns takes up a bit of vocal duty. While neither singer has the range or accentuation of James Blunt (a good thing), and the lyrics are often drowned in the aural assault, they do the job. And along with ten years’ worth of material Mogwai conclusively prove that they’re more than just quiet/loud guitar tricksters who also never compromised their vision for commercial fame.
The lighting employed on stage was minimal but nuanced the songs well: part late 70s glam, part ghostly dim, and strobe. DJ Keith Cameron filled the band changing silences with a mix of reggae, rock and dance. The audience at Mogwai hardly moves let alone moshes; that’s how potent their audio drugs are.
It wasn’t a flawless night, however: the one and half hour set seemed all too brief and a little more of the louder stuff would’ve been welcomed by me. Having said that, my ears took less time to shake off the ringing the following day than the previous time I saw them when they closed their set with feedback-that-dared-not-end! A more palatable conclusion came at the ICA with a sufficiently heavy new song during the encore that rocked each wall of the small venue.
If Mogwai improved on the standard of their opening night performance, surely successive ICA audiences will be chomping at the bit for the band’s impending releases. January 30 will see the launch of the band’s first ever promotional single backed by b-sides, titled Friend Of The Night (truly awesome live!) ahead of their fifth studio album, Mr. Beast, which will be in shops in early March. Still, an attractive Mr. Beast t-shirt can keep you satisfied for now. I cannae wait!