Mogwai, gig review: 'More clarity, less noise as rockers show a subtle side'

3.00

Royal Festival Hall, London

In Joe Dante’s film Gremlins, the Mogwai is a cute’n’cuddly creature which, when exposed to water, transforms into a mischievous monster. As such, it’s always been taken as a neat metaphor for the way that Mogwai the band’s music frequently transforms from a polite, quiet instrumental figure into a raging blizzard of noise – albeit one which water presumably pays little part in effecting.

But there’s little mischief in this monstrous music. Generally bereft of cheekier rhythmic elements like funk and swing, their tracks tend to plod grimly along until the point of transformation, whereupon, rather than gaining speed or momentum, they simply become punishingly loud and distorted, the upper registers a blur of scrubbed guitar distortion over an amorphous, muddy bottom. “Friend of the Night” is typical: a guitar scribes elegant lines over a terse three-note motif from another guitar, while a keyboard wraps a wistful waltz-time figure around them, until the piece erupts into a shrill wall of distorted guitar. On “Rano Pano”, keyboardist Barry Burns switches to guitar to produce three different barrages of fuzzy guitar noise, with an organ top line mysteriously appearing without anybody apparently playing it.

Sometimes, the Whitbread Prize-nominated author Luke Sutherland joins them, adding sleek violin to the angular guitar figures of tracks like “Take Me Somewhere Nice” , “Christmas Steps” and “White Noise”, though it occupies a register already overcrowded with splintered shards of guitar. He also sings on the throbbing krautrock motorik of “Mexican Grand Prix”, but as with guitarist Stuart Braithwaite’s occasional vocal contributions, the voice is a poor relation to the other instruments, an indecipherable murmur. On “The Lord Is Out of Control”, Burns sings a sinister vocal through an organ-tone vocoder, which effectively reduces it to simply an instrumental line, again ultimately smothered in sheets of guitar distortion. So why bother with words at all?

In recent years, particularly on last year’s TV soundtrack to Les Revenants and the new Rave Tapes album, Mogwai have tempered their characteristic style with an extra degree of subtlety and grace, so it’s heartening that the best pieces tonight mostly come from Rave Tapes. There’s a pleasing stealthy resonance about “Remurdered”, with its tingling electric piano and cryptic guitar punctuation; and “Mastercard” offers a clearer mode of psychedelic rock, with chunky Morse-code rhythm guitar chords.

“Heard About You”, however, is a revelation: bassist Dominic Aitchison plugs into John Cummings’ guitar rig, and the swampy rumble is suddenly replaced by beautiful, clear arpeggiated bass chords which intertwine  on equal terms with the limpid electric piano and slinky guitar lines. In an epiphany, the shaggy coat of distortion clears away to reveal something far leaner and more graceful, a gazelle vaulting across open veldt rather than a lumbering, hairy monster trudging through a swamp. It’s an evolutionary process that can’t help but produce a stronger, more agile breed of Mogwai.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power