As a Mogwai gig first-timer I had been advised by my friends that ear-plugs would be a must, as the band are ‘ear-bleedingly, pant-shittingly loud’. Indeed, at a previous show one aforementioned friend resorted to visiting the bar mid-act in a failed attempt to acquire ear-plugs, returning instead with two foam tennis racquet confectionery snacks stuffed down his ears.
The volume serves a purpose, though. The sound is immersive, focusing the listener’s attention entirely on the band and their performance. Of course the show isn’t all loud loud loud – there are exceedingly quiet sections, quiet enough to hear any audience chatter, leading to some pleasing confrontations where angry fans shouted down impolite chatterboxes. These quiet sections lull you into a dreamy state from which you are rudely awakened by the return of the wall of sound. The impressive dynamic range of the performance serves to keep the audience engaged, and never do any of the tracks become tedious.
The visual element of the performance has clearly been constructed with some care. Strobe lights, spotlights and floating overhead hexagons (resembling giant, futuristic, analogue Mysterons) all pulse in time with the music, although irritatingly for a pedant such as myself they do occasionally come slightly out of sync. Generally the glut of visuals correspond to the mood nicely – monochrome washes in red, blue and orange match the droning singular chords, while brief guitar flurries are punctuated with strobe light bursts, stamping the image of the band onto the audience’s collective retinas. Broken-down, eerier sections are accompanied by flickering white strobes increasing and decreasing in magnitude, lending the entire stage the feel of an abandoned industrial complex, an image made all the more pertinent by the scaffolding lighting rig extending over the band like a clawed metallic hand. The only time this all falls flat is during the occasional burst that sees every spotlight involved, sweeping in every direction and spraying out different colours, leaving the whole stage resembling a kind of dire, post-rock fairground waltzer – luckily these sections are few and far between.
“The low sloping main hall and boxes reminiscent of the Star Wars galactic senate ensured everyone’s view was perfect.”
The Festival Hall seemed a good fit for Mogwai. The low sloping main hall and boxes reminiscent of the Star Wars galactic senate ensured everyone’s view was perfect, and the acoustics of the hall left every note crisp and clear. This was never going to be the kind of gig where the audience felt intimately at one with the band (the size of the venue and the all-seating layout saw to that), but the space worked well as somewhere to showcase a spectacle, and Mogwai duly performed.
The band’s newer, more synth heavy tracks (complete with triggered drum samples) easily held their own with the older favourites. Indeed, ‘The Lord Is Out Of Control‘ from new album ‘Rave Tapes‘ was a particular favourite, with the soaring vocoded vocal line punching through the droning guitars and causing the hairs to stand up on the back of every neck in the crowd. Classics ‘We’re No Here‘ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan‘ held all the power and punch you’d expect, while ‘Hunted By A Freak‘ was sublime and beautiful. The only glitch in the show was technical – an amp malfunction during the final song of the encore left the band one member short as he left the stage prematurely, but the others soldiered on like the seasoned professionals they are. Regardless, the entire audience rose to its feet in applause as the rest of the band exited to hanging atonal feedback, with roaring amp-noise and orange spotlight glow leaving the stage area looking like a gaping portal to hell.
Royal Festival Hall, London, 25/01/2014