The crowd was relatively calm. Some bobbed their heads lightly to the dark synths of opener Xander Harris, and others gave contained although more full-bodied attempts at grooving to the electronic pulse. But the vast majority, myself included, stood their ground in the quickly growing crowd at The Regency Ballroom, building internal excitement for the headliner. Welcoming the band with controlled awe as they took stage, we all knew what was coming. We were ready for Mogwai.
To say that the Glasgow post-rock band’s reputation precedes them is an understatement. Since their debut, Mogwai Young Team in 1995, the group has released 8 additional studio albums, 2 live albums, 3 compilation albums, 13 EPs, 2 remix albums, and 5 film and television scores. Not including singles, that’s about three releases every two years—an indisputable sign of commitment to their craft. With this creative energy, Mogwai’s garnered acclaim as one of the most recognizable and respected post-rock bands, despite their dislike for the genre tag “post-rock.” Yet, even the notoriety of their prolific and acclaimed discography doesn’t quite surmount the reputation of their live performances. The band has earned the distinction of delivering blisteringly loud performances, alternating subdued beauty with truly unreal walls of sound at their climax. Partially due to this live reputation, they’ve maintained a devoted fanbase across over two decades, and with the start of their sixth show at The Regency Ballroom since 2008 (we also covered their fifth), the audience was anticipating explosions.
But just as with crescendos, climaxes need buildup, and patience and anticipation were guiding themes for the night. Mogwai’s set started with two songs from their most recent release, Every Country’s Sun, with “20 Size” giving a standard soft-to-loud entrance and “Party in the Dark” featuring an atypical use of vocals and a danceable groove. Although common reception for Every Country’s Sun highlighted the band’s return to the forceful noise of their earlier work, it became clear as the night progressed that the band was still more comfortable with the style of focusing on melodies and musical interplay (as with their recent soundtrack work). This made sense given the setlist’s fair sampling of tracks spawning their whole career, which often featured more subdued favorites, such as Rock Action’s (2001) somber “Take Me Somewhere Nice.” Likewise, the lighting was often appropriately slowly paced, and the audience mildly rocked to the beat (although a select few did aggressively whip their bodies at every seeming chance).
Fortunately for those waiting for surging classics, Ten Rapid’s (1997) “Ithica 27/9” delivered the first with a searing climax, marking by pedal-heavy shredding and intensely rapid strobe lights. As the lights suddenly cut back with the music to calm, distant guitar arpeggios, the crowd cheered to the band’s impressive command of dynamic contrast. That being said, just as long crescendos can tease a climax early, the brutal guitar noise again diminished with the next song, Happy Songs for Happy People’s (2003) eerie vocoder-led “Hunted By a Freak.”
To Mogwai’s credit, their live show amounts to much more than just dynamic intensity. Able to equally channel synthy grit with Rave Tapes’ (2014) “Remurdered” and metal brutality with Every Country’s Sun’s “Old Poisons,” the performance was diverse yet still uniquely Mogwai, and the band always seemed engaged despite the lack of showiness. In fact, the vast majority of speaking from the entire band was done by founding guitarist (and occasional vocalist) Stuart Braithwaite, who made sure to thank the audience with a smile after nearly every song—a refreshing departure from the typically silent and shadowy stage presences of most post-rock bands. The other members, however, still mostly adhered to this trope of the silent and intense post-rocker, often standing as pensively as the audience.
By the time their set was closing, anticipation of skull-piercing noise was high. Previously mentioned “Old Poisons” closed the pre-encore set thunderously, featuring the guitarists putting their weight into wringing the sonic blood from their guitars. Complementing the intensity nicely, the row-like lighting rig behind the band that had been slowly incorporated throughout the night had been fully illuminated. After an admittedly weak pre-encore applause from the crowd, Mogwai still delivered a fulfilling encore with the cinematic and slow-burning “Every Country’s Sun,” and closed the night with Mr. Beast (2004) album closer “We’re No Here”—a bomb of distortion to end the night.
After the noise faded, and as the band definitively walked off the stage, I felt thrilled but still craved more. Was I a bit disappointed that they didn’t play classic 16-minute closer “Mogwai Fear Satan” from Mogwai Young Team? Yes — but with their admirable pattern of keeping each setlist varied and presumably saving that gem for only the most excited crowds, I understand. The night was still brilliant overall, my face still slightly melted, and should they come back to the Regency a seventh time, I know I’ll be excited to see what more they can bring to the stage.
Written by Dylan Medlock
Photos by Olivia Song