Mogwai at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 18th June 2015
It’s hard to believe that this is Mogwai’s 20th Anniversary Tour, albeit that it marks twenty years since their formation as opposed to their debut album, ‘Young Team’, which was released in 1997. Also remarkable is the fact that the line up has remained unchanged since 1998 when Barry Burns was brought in on keys to join Stuart Braithwaite, Dominic Aitchison, Martin Bulloch and John Cummings and fill out the sound with organ drones and piano riffs. Since then their sound has developed from the post-rock articulation of early albums, through a more melodic ‘Mr Beast’, and on to the more atmospheric and synth-driven sounds of more recent outings and their soundtrack work. And yet there is something satisfyingly consistent about Mogwai, when compared to a band like, say, Radiohead, who now sound nothing like their former selves and no longer play songs from their first two albums live.
‘Young Team’s album opener, Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home, also opens the set tonight and sets the tone for the evening, its quiet-loud-quiet dynamics are more of an antiquated Mogwai trope. This is followed by Killing All The Flies from 2003’s ‘Happy Songs For Happy People’, where Barry Burns’ vocoder-affected vocals, now more common on Mogwai records, really came into its own. The moving Friend of the Night follows, from 2006’s ‘Mr Beast’, with the piano-driven chorus being drowned out by the dual guitar power chords of the chorus, which is a shame as it is one of Burns’ finest moments.
All the while bass player Dominic Atchinson cuts an imposing figure, towering above everyone else on stage, except for, perhaps, Luke Sutherland, the “Sixth Mogwai”, who makes his entrance on violin for Christmas Steps and takes up guitar for Auto-Rock, a song which also sees John Cummings move from guitar to crash cymbal rolls. One of the only missteps of the night is Teenage Exorcists from recent EP ‘Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1’ which features clean vocals from Stuart Braithwaite, and which, paradoxically, is quite boring as a result.
On a night when a deep back catalogue is being plundered, one of the loudest cheers comes for Remurdered from their last full length, ‘Rave Tapes’. It is also one of the most visually arresting performances of the night, with Atchinson on Microkorg and Sutherland playing floor toms, both with their backs to the audience, building to a growling crescendo when that synth riff kicks in. From that it’s into We’re No Here, with its open chord strums and at one point, all three guitarists buzz-sawing away, percussionless, to a background of strobes – a powerful and striking image.
One complaint from the night would be Burns’ behaviour when he takes up guitar centre stage. Whether he is nervous at being the centre of attention, or he feels self-conscious just standing there, when he is not actually playing the guitar he is constantly tuning it or smiling to someone off stage which is distracting for the audience and disrespectful to his bandmates.
During My Father My King, the last song of the night, each of the guitarists, rather comically, turns to the sound guy in turn requesting that their guitar be turned up. The result is such an ear-bleeding wall of sound that you can’t even hear the drums anymore. Yes, they all went to 11.
If your favourite Mogwai album was the ‘Hawk Is Howling’, you might have felt a little short-changed as it was the only album not to be represented tonight. Also lacking was their soundtrack work, particularly the excellent Zidane soundtrack. Still this is nitpicking. A night is only so long. Less than a week ago another group of Scots arrived in Ireland. It resulted in a desultory 1-1 draw, with neither team entirely satisfied. Even though tonight was a 1-0 win for Mogwai, both teams can be pretty happy with the outcome.