Mogwai, Roundhouse, London
Monday 01 August 2011
If ever a night was suited to the cathartic strains of Glasgow's premier instrumental rockers, it was this one.
Unaccustomed to verbal grandstanding, Mogwai's spokesman, Stuart Braithwaite, was curt, but his sentiments were appreciated.
"Last week we were playing in a field in Norway," he said, "so we'd like to dedicate this one to the people of Norway." Thus he introduced "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong", a wistful tune that the five-piece built from fragile keyboards. The synth player Barry Burns's treated, disembodied vocals sounded oddly affecting.
Now on their seventh studio album, the group are maturing gracefully. Their current album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, says more about their sarky wit than their musical style, featuring as it does some of their most gorgeous compositions since 1999's Come On Die Young. Erroneously described then as post-rock, Mogwai started off their career in thrall to The Stooges and Black Sabbath – they just ditched the vocals. They are growing up in other ways, too, and they gave a shout out here to drummer Martin Bulloch's "wee boy", who was watching as the festival's sponsors, iTunes, streamed the gig. It was the first time he had seen his dad play.
The first half-hour reflected the group's development, featuring wistful shimmers, mournful keyboards and funereal organ. Elsewhere, Mogwai betrayed a devotion to Can with krautrock rhythms, but even then they were aiming less for psychedelic freak-out than using such rhythms as a base, for the euphoric rush of "How To Be a Werewolf" or the tuneful "Mexican Grand Prix", which is similar to Primal Scream's motorik excursions.
Another highlight was the meditative "New Paths to Helicon Part 1", which began with Braithwaite sat on the drum riser, caressing the bass guitar's strings, while his bandmates built up to a headlong stampede that kicked in with a moment wonderfully captured by accelerated movement on a wall-size digital display, mirrored by screens under the venue's circular balcony.
Later, Mogwai returned to their more recognisable metallic riffs. Burns joined a four-way guitar assault as the volume became teeth-chatteringly loud, as regular cohort Luke Sutherland added violin and querulous vocals. There was no way any PC's speakers could do justice to such sonic overload.
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