The stage set looked a bit like something out of Later…with Jools Holland, the long-running music show on BBC2. Like Mogwai was bringing a bit of the UK with them wherever they were touring but also a heightened visual presentation of the music without depending on the lighting of any particular venue.
Drawing liberally from the band’s excellent new record, Every Country’s Sun, Mogwai opened the show with the rich and roiling low end and scintillating, weather system-esque build of the title track. From there and for the rest of the set, Mogwai demonstrated how it’s not quite like some other instrumental rock bands or post-rock acts. If you give yourself some time with the records it hits you. Live, the effect is even more pronounced. It’s never just variations on a theme or jamming out. Mogwai has a vibe if not a one trick pony sound. The song titles suggest there is emotional content that goes beyond merely attempting to be epic. There is humor, terror, apprehension, anxiety, joy, tranquility, contemplative airs and heady dives into layers of sound both introspective and fiery. Mogwai’s dynamism is kinetic—it is of the body. But it is also working on the levels of the heart and the imagination without having to speak or sing a word. Sure, there have been lyrics and vocals in various Mogwai’s songs over the years but on Every Country’s Sun the more pop moments with words work as elements of the music itself, another sound working in synch with the others.
Because Mogwai’s music is all but beyond language it’s ability to communicate effectively is not dependent on linguistics. And yet its enigmatic titles employ a clever use of the English language to add a sense of suggestive mystery and multiple meanings. With “I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead,” the surrealistic title conveys a dry, irreverent sense of humor but one that draws on Morrison’s own personal mythology as being connected with Native American spirituality and communicating poetic and cosmic truths past the barriers of time, space and culture. When band edged into the song there was a sense of being swept into a melancholic realm where despair sublimates off into the haze of spent emotions.
And yet there was something a bit different with this Mogwai show. Apparently drummer Martin Bulloch was suffering from health issues and filling in on the tour was Cat Myers of Honeyblood. And Myers proved more than adequate to the task, providing the power and nuance that Bulloch masterfully brings to Mogwai’s records and live performances.
The show would have ended with “Old Poisons” but we were treated to the full rendition of an early Mogwai track, “Mogwai Fear Satan,” proving the Scottish quintet (including touring multi-instrumentalist Alex Mackay) was crafting evocative soundscapes of delicate intricacy and raw power from the beginning.
Every Country’s Sun
Friend of the Night
Party in the Dark
Crossing the Road Material
Killing All the Flies
I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead
Battered at a Scramble
Don’t Believe the Fife
Hunted by a Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan