It’s been nearly seven years since I last saw Mogwai live. Their gig that night in 2002 was one of the most ferocious I’d ever seen, or have seen since. I’d been warned about the volume, but in tiny Lee’s Palace there was nowhere to hide, and my friend Mike and I bore the brunt. I loved it, though, and was excited to see them again night after missing them the last couple of times around. In fact, seeing them last fall was supposed to be a celebration of finishing the MBA, of returning to seeing the occasional gig. They just made me wait a little longer is all. Silly inconsiderate Martin had pacemaker problems so they had to postpone the tour. That’s so like him.
And so, on Monday, Joe and I staked out a spot near the front of the Phoenix’s balcony just minutes before opener the Twilight Sad began their set. A funny thing happened: I noticed this guy pulling on the door out to the little catwalk along the Phoenix’s upper wall, as if he planned to get out there to take in the show. Padlocked; foiled. The guy turns to walk away and as I see his face I realize…that’s Stuart Braithwaite. By the time I processed that he’d spun off to find another vantage point. Weird.
Anyway, the Twilight Sad was good. Solid. I shall sample more of their stuff, which I suppose is the point of the opening slot, so well done lads. I laughed to Joe that, after their set, I looked down to the main floor and saw a girl covering her ears and (presumably) complaining to her boyfriend that it was too loud. I felt bad for her. It certainly wasn’t to get any quieter from there on. Fifteen minutes later Mogwai emerged to drive her from the building, pleading for her life. Or so I imagined.
A few songs in it was clear that this would be a very different Mogwai than I’d seen before. Thankfully, of course; who wants to see the same show again? Their music has gained more depth and nuance, and I was happy to see that it translated well to the stage, perhaps was even augmented by it. The additional textures of Barry Burns’ keyboards and (highly effects-ridden) vocals gave the first half of the night a mellower feel than I think most people expected. Stuart even broke out the soft words of “Cody” to much applause. They were covering a lot of ground too; by the end of the night they’d have played songs from eight different albums, by my count. But in the final half of the show, they tightened it up and started throwing serious punches.
They hit us with “You Don’t Know Jesus” and “Auto Rock”, gave us a breather with “Thank You Space Expert” and launched the perfect segue: “Hunted By A Freak”. I’ve always found that song ominous — maybe it’s because I can’t understand the vocals, or because I’ve seen the highly disturbing video — but until tonight I don’t think I ever fully grasped what a brilliant, beautiful song that is. Really. Still, that feeling of impending danger that comes with it was accurate: they bled straight from that song into a version of “Mogwai Fear Satan” that had everyone gleefully reeling, and then laid the crunch of “Glasgow Mega-Snake” on us to close out the set.
I had a hunch about what the encore might be — I knew they’d played “Like Herod” and “Batcat” in Montreal the night before, and they’d tended to alternate — so I was more than happy when they began playing “My Father My King”. It’s one of my 50 favourite songs of all time, and it destroyed the last time I saw them. I settled in. I prepared. I tried to keep my hopes from getting too high, but needn’t have bothered. This was better than last time, better than I’ve heard it played live before. It declined, dissolved and, as the band left the stage, descended into punishing feedback, just to remind us that nuance and maturity or no, they were still the boss of us.
After so many years of loving their music I think it’s safe to say that they’re my favourite band, even if they do try to kill me through my ears. Actually, I exaggerate: even though my ears were ringing when I got home that night, when I woke up six hours later my hearing was fine. I guess the much larger space of the Phoenix spared me from 2002’s result, when it took more than two days for my hearing to return to normal. I was almost disappointed.
And thus, I was awakened from my long gig slumber. Have I mentioned that I prefer a loud alarm clock?
- I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
- Killing All The Flies
- Travel Is Dangerous
- Scotland’s Shame
- Small Children In The Background
- You Don’t Know Jesus
- Auto Rock
- Thank You Space Expert
- Hunted By A Freak
- Mogwai Fear Satan
- Glasgow Megasnake
- My Father My King (encore)