The kids next to me were most likely born just a few years before I first saw Scotland’s Mogwai, on their first-ever visit to Toronto, in 1999. They’re standing in front of one of two extra stage-mounted speakers. They’re excited. They discovered Mogwai on YouTube. Christ knows how one discovers Mogwai on YouTube, but my faith in YouTube is, for an instance, restored.
“Do you have earplugs?” I ask.
“No,” they say, smiling, in that way that suggests grandma is once again talking shite.
“Mogwai are one of the loudest bands in the world,” I say. “I’m not joking. If you ever want to hear live music again, you’ll find some earplugs.”
The boys fish out their iPhone ear buds. Good boys.
Of my first-ever Mogwai experience back in the late-90s, I wrote in my diary: “Holy fuck…Sorry…WHAT? I can’t hear you!” and complained about being deaf. Fifteen years later, nothing’s changed. Except this time I’m armed with pro plugs and ready to lose myself fully in the enormous, sumptuous sound and fury of Scotland’s incomparable instrumentalists.
It’s the last night of the band’s extensive 33-date tour. The unassuming “Heard About You Last Night” from new album Rave Tapes kicks off. It’s a slow, steady flow, with both Barry Burns and Dominic Aitchison on keyboard/piano… and the boys next to me look at me like I might be insane for warning them. “Friend of the Night” from Mr Beast follows with its lovely piano, but slowly the five-piece add on new rich layers. Soon it feels like we’re standing in the middle of a landscape, or an intense film soundtrack. Two minutes into the next, “Ithica 27″ from Ten Rapid, and lead guitarist Stuart Braithwaite – an alchemist – is attacking his instrument. There’s a kind of helicopter fuzz so loud that it nearly blows the boys’ hair back. They push their earbuds closer into their skulls.
“I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” from The Hawk Is Howling is the sound of three orchestras droning as one. “Rano Pano” from Hardcore Will Never Die employed all the effects pedals of the universe. And on it went – a delicious sampler platter of nearly 20 years of Mogwai. And in between, silence. With the exception of Braithwaite offering up a simple “Cheers” or “Thanks very much” while chugging Coronas, you could hear a pin drop. Or maybe just tinnitus. We were that gobsmacked.
And there were highlights. “Deesh”, was one. Electro-prog rock opener Majeure – aka Anthony Paterra, former drummer of Zombi – joined the band on stage for a double-drumming attack, supporting incredibly powerful drummer Martin Bulloch. “We’re No Here” came on like a future apocalypse, everything moving with a frantic urgency. “Remurdered”’s electro loop grew gigantic and halfway through switched into a Krautish Moog freak out. It’s as great as anything Mogwai has ever done.
And finally, the set ender, “Mogwai Fear Satan” from classic album Young Team. “Move back a bit for the encore,” my friend Melissa – the same person who came with me in 1999 – counselled me before the show. But I dug in at the front row, adjusted the pro plugs. “Satan” tonight is different from the recording. The band take the sound down low. Braithwaite is bending strings quietly, so that they’re almost fragile. Then, somewhere in an exact instance, the whole band seem to hit EVERY PEDAL ON STAGE and I swear my face shakes. It’s such a precise moment, a strategic victory in the war against bad music, that I actually laugh. It’s monstrous.
Afterwards, the kids next to me tap me on the shoulder. “HOLY SHIT,” one yells. “THANK YOU FOR TELLING US TO WEAR EARPLUGS.” My pleasure, children. You’ll want to keep hearing these guys for years to come. \m/
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