Mogwai– KOKO, London
(July 29, 2014)
I had always heard that Mogwai was an incredibly SOLID BAND and one of Scotland’s FINEST, but for some reason, I let them slip under my radar (which is pretty surprising considering my hearty appetite for Scottish bands: Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, Admiral Fallow, Three Blind Wolves, Washington Irving, We Were Promised Jetpacks, RM Hubbert, Fatherson, Bwani Junction, CHVRCHES). I remember I was going to see Mogwai at Sasquatch music festival back in May 2012, but they cancelled last minute due to visa/travel issues. Looking back, I can’t even IMAGINE hearing/watching their ethereal music emanate over the Gorge’s siiiiiiiiick celestial skyline. MY GOD. Seeing them and Explosions in the Sky on one weekend might have shattered my brain to bits, and maybe it was for the best…NOT. If it wasn’t for The Twilight Sad (one of my favorite Scottish bands) announcing a benefit concert with them to honor the loss of Julia Brightly, I might not have traveled down MogWAY (thankfully I did). The benefit was the idea of Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai and Daveid Phillips from KOKO, and the message they posted on their ticket page was:
“On Saturday 3rd May, we were devastated to learn of the passing of our beautiful friend Julia Brightly who lost her struggle to sudden illness (cancer). To say all of us were in shock is a huge understatement. Anyone who knew her from the days of the Mute Drivers to any artists she did sound for, from Mogwai, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Caribou to Slint and her friends & family will all agree, she was one of the bravest and most talented people we were lucky enough to call a friend. We all miss her dearly, and although sadly departed she will never be forgotten. In her honour we are staging a benefit to donate all the proceeds to one of Julia’s favourite charities, Gendered Intelligence – something very close to Julia’s heart…All proceeds from the concert will be donated to GenderedIntelligence.co.uk.” SUCH an amazing idea and generous offer by both bands, and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it.
After a brilliant set by The Twilight Sad (they keep getting better and better every time I see them), I anxiously anticipated this “post-rock instrumental band” that I had been hearing alot about. I recall meeting a guy at The Twilight Sad’s Bandstand Busking event (June 21) telling me that Mogwai was his FAVORTE BAND OF ALL TIME and that he’s seen them 11 TIMES NOW (including traveling to Primavera Sound Music festival every year they’ve played). Well, let me tell you…I can TOTALLY see WHY he’s seen them that insane amount of times, and whey he’s harnessed an addiction for their hypnotic concoction of music. I am STILL LEVITATING from Tuesday night’s performance at KOKO, and my EYES HURT (literally, I’ve had sore eyes since) from how long I’d kept them WIDE-EYED (buggin out!) during the entire set. I was lucky enough to soak up all the magic from the very front, and might just have collapsed if the railing was not there. Serious adrenaline. Serious numbing. Serious loss of motor control.
It’s hard to describe the beauty of the compositions that Mogwai create– their music steal snippets of magic from genres like shoegazing, math rock, art rock and occasionally instrumental metal. It was once stated in an interview that “the band do not like the categorisation of post-rock” because they believe it “over-analyzes everything.” I definitely agree, and many times I’ve found that the most beautiful things in life are often the hardest (and sometimes impossible) to describe. What I CAN SAY it is seems to me like symphonic music made with rock instruments, similar to Explosions in the Sky, but with alot more distorted guitar (which I LOVE). I was lucky enough to see Explosions in the Sky both at Sasquatch music festival (2012) and at the Palace of Fine Arts theater (sick, I know). More recently, I’ve seen 65daysofstatic and sleepmakeswaves, two other bands who I can draw some parallels to Mogwai.
I was so BLOWN AWAY by how adroit and technically-sound all of Mogwai‘s band members were, and how flawlessly they would exchange instruments like they were PLAYING A GAME OF CATCH. In the absence of lyrics, it’s obvious they all communicate through their unique instrumental dialogue: raging riffs, piercing percussion, tantalizing trill, disturbing distortion, bellowing base…(You get the picture). Having formed in 1995, Mogwai (…MogWAY…MogWOW) has craft their craft into the music scene for nearly two decades now, and their talented cast includes: Stuart Braithwaite (guitar, vocals), John Cummings (guitar, vocals), Barry Burns (guitar, piano, synthesizer, vocals), Dominic Aitchison (bass guitar), and Martin Bulloch (drums). The spot I chose to stand (front left facing the stage) just happened to be directly across from John Cummings, who is one to stand the farthest out on stage (and I’m not complaining). BUT, the COOLEST THING about this band is that there IS NO FRONTMAN. They ALL alternate in taking “center-stage,” and it’s not like all the focus is can be on the singer (cause they don’t have one!). I love this concept.
The entire set was MIND-BLOWING (did I mention that already?), but the first song to strike a chord in me was White Noise, (see video below) off their 2011 album, ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.’ I loved being right in front of John Cumming’s guitar greatness, especially for this song, where you can’t help but sink into the mellowing monotony of his undulating riff. You then find yourself sinking deeper into this wave at 2 min in, when Stuart layers on an additional guitar riffs that stagger John’s in all the right places. I wish all WHITE NOISE sounded THIS GOOD. But, we must be honest with ourselves…this “noise” is “in fact the brilliant music of a genius.” It’s fusion of complex sound is guaranteed to stimulate a level of curiosity that is beyond our control.
I also recall the 5th SONG being one of my FAVORITES of the night, and I’m a bit upset I didn’t get it on video. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I found out later (from that guy I met who’s seen them 11 times) that this 5th song is called Christmas Steps, and that it’s one they HARDLY EVER play live. Well then…I must have a pretty DAMN GOOD FILTER, cause I put this on the top of my list without ever haven’t listened to their albums (although now that’s definitely changed now). I just remember gentle guitar melody in the beginning suddenly become devoured but a BABBLING BASELINE at about 4 min in, and the clashing contrast was just freaking phenomenal. The plucking of the base strings in that one was like something I’d never seen before. BRUTAL ATTACK. (So good).
Nearly right after Christmas Steps was Autorock, the piano powerhouse off Mogwai’s 2006 album, ‘Mr Beast.’ The piano riff starts out soft (well, For Mogwai’s standards), and slowly builds volume and intensity throughout, keeping us VERY MUCH on our TIPTOES the entire time. Barry Burns banging on those keys was definitely a “MR BEAST” in this one. xx
Then came Remurdered, a popular gem off Mogwai’s newest album, ‘Rave Tapes’ (released October 2013). This album, by the way, entered the UK album charts at #10 and as of April 2014 has been the best selling UK album released in 2014 in terms of vinyl sales. WELL DESERVED. I currently can’t get enough of Remurdered, and it’s def going to be the title track of my next playlist.
Immediately following this one was Helicon 1, one of Mogwai’s best from their debut album, ‘Ten Rapid.’ I knew this one was gonna be SOMETHING SPECIAL when Stuart took a seat. It reminds me so much of an Explosions in the Sky song, but more distorted guitar (as I mentioned before). YAAAAAAAS. Grip me with that kinda distortion any day. A flood of adrenaline at ~4 min in, and everything becomes numb. xxx
With only two more songs left, my brain could NOT EVEN HANDLE all of the stimulation/euphoria I was experiencing. My eyes were bugging out of my head and tearing (thank gosh cause I’m sure they would have dried out), and I was left speechless. SPEECHLESS (and anyone who knows me knows that I ALWAYS have something to say!)…It was so cool to later share my REVELATION with the girls standing and me, including someone I had met previously at a Twilight Sad gig (see our huge smiles below). Then, I later saw that Mogwai music buddy (who had seen Mogwai 11 times) on the tube that night and basically let our ENTIRE TRAIN CART know how I felt about the life-changing gig. (I tried to subdue my squeal and number of “holy shit”‘s…)
Since that gig (see set-list below), I have downloaded all Mogwai albums and been listening non-stop. This new discovery truly came at an ideal time, and with an insane amount of scientific data to soon tie up, their music offers the perfect mindscape. I was all excited to analyze my 100+ brain images yesterday, knowing that I had this MogWOW feast to dig into. Just like they state in their Postpunk song, “Music is so powerful that it’s quite beyond my control…and when I’m in the grips of it I don’t feel pleasure and I don’t feel pain, either physically or emotionally…when you just couldn’t feel anything, and you didn’t want to either.” YES….I know EXACTLY what you mean. And although you might not be conscious of how Mogwai’s music is making you feel WHILE listening, you later realize that it’s seeped into your subconsious will all sorts of healing powers.
I’m on such a Mogwai kick right now that I’m vacilating between the decision of seeing them (or not) at Richmond Park in Glasgow as part of East End Social’s ‘Last Big Weekend.’ Not only will it be one of their last announced gigs of the year, BUT, it will be IN THEIR HOMETOWN. I can’t EVEN IMAGINE that musical “MogWOW” madness…. (I’m most likely GONNA GO) 🙂
I’ve linked to your review from my Mogwai fansite – online since 1998 and counting:
Awesome, Rob!I really appreciate that! What part of your site are you gonna put it under?
I can’t believe you’ve have it successfully running for all those years…from the very beginning. VERY IMPRESSIVE.
By the way, I have a facebook music page that I post to more frequently than this wordpress site. Might wanna check it out!
Check the link I posted – I’ve nicked your setlist photo, hope that’s OK.
Looks great! Thank you so much for making sure it reaches more Mogwai fans!
Hopefully I can make it to their Glasgow gig on the 30th!
Loved your Mogwai review. I think the Koko show was one of the best I’ve ever been to. I’ve been buying their records for years but, somehow, had never seen them live until this summer. Now rectified this: They blew me away at Glastonbury, then again at Latitude, with. the Koko gig being the third time in 5 weeks. Now booked to see them in Brighton in October. I can’t get enough.
I think the Koko gig had that extra emotional punch due to the tragic news that prompted the evening. They were just perfect that night. New Path to a Helicon being the highlight. So beautiful.
Keep up the good work with the blog, a great read.