True North: Mogwai
by Bianca Rhodes
Spearheading last weekend’s True North music festival, Glasgow rock giants Mogwai filled His Majesty’s Theatre with electric energy. A magnificent concert that yet suffered from the relatively small size of the venue.
Blanck Mass, solo name of Benjamin John Power from Fuck Buttons, opened the night with a short set of pure electronic noise experimentation, complete with blinding, nightmarish visuals. Without introduction, not easing the audience into the experience but thundering straight in, Blanck Mass was a heart-stopping, baffling shock. While puzzling and uncomforting, it set a bold stance, preparing the audience for the unexpected.
After the short break, Mogwai unassumingly took to the stage, holding the audience spellbound in the eerie, dream-like world conjured up by their majestic sonorities. The delicate opening riff spun a charged atmosphere sizzling with electric tension, before collapsing and bursting into grandiose rock. Composing a well-balanced mosaic of their more recent material together with gems from their extensive back catalogue, they drifted through heights of ecstatic levity with shoegazing, ambience-heavy examples from recent years, then brazenly shoved us into a new dimension of fiery, grungy harmonies from their younger days. A signature sign of their music, sudden dynamic shifts from relaxed, dreamy melodies to guitar-heavy, blaring rock sounds featured repeatedly, but never felt cheap or ineffective. The concert was not simply the leg of a promotional tour – it was indeed part of a music festival set to celebrate the sonorities and atmospheres of Scotland. Mogwai worked on evoking an atmosphere, translating the North into music – successfully so. Engagement with visual effects of lights and smoke was minimal yet powerful, not distracting but enhancing the dream-like effect of the music or charging it with energy at its heaviest points. Sparsely, but politely addressing the audience, the band was never over-prominent on the stage, leaving room to their sound and our experience. While the theatre setting added to the suspension of disbelief, at often felt too small and occlusive, almost claustrophobic.
Largely accessible beyond devotees of the genre, Mogwai proved to be a great live act. To watch and re-watch.