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Mogwai At The Henry Fonda Theater, Saturday June 2nd 2012

I often go running with Mogwai’s ‘Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will’ on my Ipod, and it fits perfectly to the exercise as there is a fierce determination in this music that can carry you a long way. You can run long miles with ‘How to be a Werewolf’ and find meaning in each step,.. but that’s a very personal point of view…

 

Mogwai was playing at the Henry Fonda Theater on Saturday night and they only played three songs off ‘Hardcore’, as the album is already one year old and part of their large production of post-rock-atmospheric-slow-burn-epic music. They have an unassuming presence on stage, five guys doing what they have to do without unnecessary talking, occasionally sipping their beer bottles, with just a brief and humble introduction by Stuart Braithwaite at the beginning of the show, ‘We are called Mogwai and we are from Glasgow’, and nothing much later on, beside a few ‘Thank you’.

 

But you don’t go to a Mogwai concert for the talking, the guys even hardly sing anything, and when they do, it is undecipherable as they use a vocoder (check out their website) which transforms the voice, then mostly used as any other instrument and not as a vehicle for actually saying something.

 

Their set was a brilliant journey through their discography and thorough the imagination, as the lack of lyrics implies a personal head trip, easily induced by their moody, stormy guitars going from a delicate quietude to an extremely loud fuzziness. And they know about travel, as, in 2 hours, they opened the show with the relatively calm and docile ‘Yes! I am a Long Way from Home’, and closed with the reaching-metal-level-epic-distortion of ‘We’re No Here’, after having visited their ‘Travel is Dangerous’.

 

Mogwai’s music triggers all sort of emotions, there is mysterious darkness, and melancholic triumphs, sometimes even in the same song, as they are atmospheric big sound builders, slowly establishing each song layer by layer, riff by riff, before the mid-song climatic wall, or rather fortress, of noise. However, there is often a pop melody trying to escape from all this sonic density making their music powerful and fragile at the same time. ‘Killing all the Flies’ started with this almost Radiohead-ish dreamy-guitars-druggy-vocals quality, the desolated piano at the beginning of ‘I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead’ sounded like a sad announcement before the dramatic drumming and climatic ambiance, and ‘Stop Coming To My House’ was a long foggy march against a white-noise blizzard.

 

The seriousness of these Scottish guys was more than astonishing, they were hardly moving or changing expression, with the exception of Stuart Braithwaite, by far the most interesting to watch, constantly undulating with his guitar, mimicking the music, and wearing a funny ‘Bitch Magnet’ t-shirt.

 

Because I am much more familiar with their last record, I found their renditions of songs off ‘Hardcore’ particularly powerful: ‘Rano Pano’ was loud, burning fuzzy red, reaching a post-metal shoegazing ascension, Mexican Grand Prix’, had additional weird electronic quirks behind its jubilating dance-y beats, and ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ was more soothing and intense than ever in its inventive repetition. While the strongest vibrations shook the ground during the ascending lullaby of the song ‘2 Rights Make 1 wrong’, I was thinking, how do they do that? How do they manage to produce this earth-shaking overwhelming feeling soaked in melancholy?

 

As I was watching around me, I realized I was mostly surrounded by men, with only a few girls in the audience (is it male music?), and one guy just behind me was all smile during the whole show, totally enjoying the experience.

 

Mogwai came back for an encore of three songs, giving another taste of their complex soundscapes with the hypnotic nature of ‘Hunted By a Freak’, the loud keys and heavy drumming of ‘Auto Rock’ and the synthetic weather, head banging, Frankenstein-monster building of ‘We’re No Here’, which died in an amalgam of distortions.

 

After two hours of this, I felt almost empty, as this is mighty music that wraps your entire body and brain, but, hours later, I was are left to wonder how the Mogwai guys can succeed at the Sisyphean task to repeatedly build this intense wall no matter what.

 

 

Setlist

Yes! I am a Long Way from Home

Stanley Kubrick

Rano Pano

Travel is Dangerous

Killing All the Flies

Mexican Grand Prix

I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead

Stop Coming To My house

How To Be A Werewolf

Ratts of the Capital

2 Rights Make 1 wrong

Glasgow Mega-Snake

 

Encore

Hunted By a Freak

Auto Rock

We’re No here

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