Apologies to Dr. Seuss but “it started in low. Then it started to grow.” Mogwai live at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on November 25th began benignly then grew into a Cerberus of layered guitars, chugging drums and thrumming bass. But Stuart Braithwaite, Dominic Aitchison and Barry Burns took to the stage without thunder, flanked by multi-instrumentalist Alex Mackay and Honeyblood’s Cat Myers (subbing for Martin Bulloch who couldn’t make the tour due to illness.) Stuart raised a hand and a smile, and then off they went.
The last track and same title of the Scottish’s band’s newest album “Every Country’s Sun” launched a 14-song, mostly instrumental set that was heavy on new stuff, followed by an also-light “Party in the Dark” and “Cody”. Just warming us up, surely, getting our ears ready – only fools attend a Mogwai show without ear protection – before plonking a mega three-pack of “I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead”, “Brain Sweeties” and “Rano Pano” down on top of us. In the audience, jaws slackened. Heads nodded reverently. Eyes that weren’t focused on the panel of effects pedals closed to try to parse the mille-feuille of effects. Hardness. Softness. Hardness again.
Yet if you thought you’d get away with closing your eyes to digest everything happening through “Don’t Believe the Fife” and “Killing All the Flies”, Cerberus’ master had other plans for you. In marched “Mogwai Fear Satan” to mow us all down. Reworked a bit from its original form, Satan featured a very quiet dip, a highly tension-producing patch of twinkling guitars in a near-silent venue, that was followed by a perfectly timed anvil drop and WHOOOOOOSH of noise so forceful, you could feel it hit your face. Any closed eyes snapped open. Ahhhhh, that’s the stuff. That’s the Mogwai I know and love. And even if someone in the band did do something goofy in closer “New Paths to Helicon: Part 1” (leading Stuart and Barry laugh hysterically, and chuckle to themselves and each other fairly continuously till they left the stage), nobody else seemed to notice. Not Alex Mackay concentrating on his pedals. Not us, who were too busy trying to steady ourselves.
To the band I have been seeing live since September 8, 1999, I salute you. Mogwai, perhaps, means a little bit more.\m/