Surely one of the most influential acts to come out of Britain in the last 20 years, Glasgow’s Mogwai stand as testament to the benefits of treating your audience with respect and the rewards that a mutual artistic understanding can produce; true, they may never pretend to be your best friend or gush with false modesty, but there is an honesty to the music they create that relies on the attention of their cult-like fan base.
Latest release, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, is a rich, typically expansive and energetic effort that sees them team up with Paul Savage, producer of their iconic debut, Young Team; a sort of Definitely Maybe for the world of instrumental post-rock. It contains some of Mogwai’s most focussed songs yet but fear not, long term fans, their isn’t a chorus in sight, although you might find yourself humming some of Hardcore…’s more riff-heavy moments. It’s their most accessible album in years and the approach has worked wonders.
At Oxford’s The Regal this evening, the ethos behind Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, follows them on stage. Songs are delivered at a breathless rate and though each band member looks at best, a little annoyed to be there, there is a constant sense of trust between artist and audience, a continued understanding that both sides are relishing the opportunity.
New tracks such as ‘San Pedro’ and ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’ are the perfect antidotes to anyone who has found Mogwai a tough listen in the past; instant and uplifting, these songs flow with confidence and are perfectly executed. Naturally, these tracks, and the album as a whole stands up excellently live, ‘Rano Pano’ particularly impressive with its hellish dirge set of guitar lines that combine to produce the kind of textures Dinosaur Jr could only have dreamt up.
Mogwai effortlessly flit between the instant and all consuming sound of their recent material and the ballsy, elongated jams of their earlier releases, never expecting anything less than the undivided attention of their audience, which least to say, they recieve. The near-packed Regal is on tenterhooks the whole evening, there seems to be no song they could play that would disappoint.
Over their 14 year career, Mogwai have adopted an increasing mixture of sounds on record, experimenting with electronics and a wider array of instruments. Tonight, the music is as every bit as far-reaching and celestial as their recorded canon, but the approach is straight up and guitar heavy, which suits them to the bone on stage.
In between songs, when they do speak up, Mogwai expose a surprisingly amiable personality, that seems both at ends with their mid-performance persona and yet completely fitting for a band who name their songs things like ‘You’re Lionel Ritchie’, there is even a joke, albeit delivered completely deadpan.
This flawless and exhausting set is finished with early favourite, ‘Like Herod’. A lengthy and brutish track from Young Team that lay down the foundations of post-rock’s greatest trick over a decade ago; the harsh contrast of quiet and loud. It’s as beastly an end to a set you could ever ask for and the racket that it launches to the back of The Regal far outweighs the recorded version. Mogwai may have since perfected the art of cramming this level of intensity into conventional song lengths, but this youthful 11 minute piece serves to show that their audience is still hanging onto every rarely-spoken word.
Photography by Tom Johnson