First Night: Mogwai Astoria, London - Drifting along with the riff

JANUARY IS the awards season in the music business, and for the past few years the NME has countered that industry orgy of self-congratulation, the Brits, with its riposte, the Brats.

The musical policy has been somewhat less adventurous this year, all the headliners already having had, or capable of, conventional pop success. Except for Saturday's attraction, Glasgow's Mogwai, four twentysomethings who wield guitars and eschew vocals, yet still play to a full house.

Their basic formula is simple - one guitar starts off dabbling with a mildly discordant riff, the others join in one by one, there's a dramatic take-off which could occur at any point, then the whole thing drifts away again. It usually bears a title like Mogwai's almost ambient opener, "May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door".This is a band that does little more than go from quiet to loud and back again, but they certainly aren't facile in intention or execution. The crowd's response is emphatic. Mogwai on Top of the Pops - it could happen.

Earlier, American Will Oldham, no one's idea of a pop star, with his large forehead and bared teeth, sold himself short as his fragile folk music was drowned by the chatter of Saturday-night revellers. The intimacy of his records was lost as his faintly sloppy band crudely rendered excellent songs like "Madeline-Mary" and the gorgeous "One With the Birds".

None the less, his current I See A Darkness album, under the name Bonnie Prince Billy, remains unreservedly recommended.

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