As regular readers may recall, Mogwai are one of my favourite bands to experience live. Despite their music being relatively instrumental and moody, they are a surprisingly engaging and uplifting proposition in concert.
This year’s “Every Country’s Sun” is their first non-soundtrack or compilation album in three years. In the meantime, they’ve done a couple of movie scores (one of which “Atomic” I saw them perform live at the Barbican) and curated a resident festival at the Roundhouse (which I wrote about here). They’ve also shed a member, with guitarist John Cummings leaving in 2015 after two decades of working with the band. Recently drummer Martin Bulloch has stopped touring temporarily due to health issues, so there has been some internal churn in the interim.
“Every Country’s Sun” follows in a similar vein to 2014’s “Rave Tapes” with more concise, richer material rather than the austere guitar led epics of their earlier years. It is much more approachable, with less of the squally atonal dynamics that they were fond of at the start of their career.
Brixton Academy was rammed full on a cold December Friday with the crowd clearly in the mood for a Mogwai-led Christmas party. One of the cliches around Mogwai is their propensity to attract an army of bearded balding men (guilty as charged) but what was noticeable was the spread of fans across genders and ages. Mogwai still appear to have a solid sustainable fan base and are creating new and vital music.
I caught the last of Sacred Paws impressive support set, the twin guitars interlocking reminiscent of Nigerian high life music and underpinning a melodic approach with a danceable rhythm section. They were fun. Mogwai are continuing their tradition of employing good support bands that they are fans of themselves.
The opening salvo of the new “Crossing The Road Material” and 2008’s “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” was bracing and secured everyone’s attention. “Rano Pano” was monstrous, a three guitar maelstrom that pinned you back and bludgeoned you over around the temples.
The sheer physicality of Mogwai’s sound draws you in, making them incapable of being ignored. When you are being hit in the solar plexus by their wall of sound, chatting to your mates or getting your mobile phone out isn’t an option.
It was immediately evident that new touring members, Honeyblood’s drummer Cat Myers and Alex Mackay on guitar and keyboards were intent on making an impression. Myers in particular was sensational, providing a muscular but unshowy backbeat and handling all the dynamic nuances that make the band’s music so unique.
“Ithica 27/9” was plucked from relatively obscurity of a non-album single and offered a more concise rendition of the interlocking guitar melody motif. The piano led beauty of “Friend Of The Night” took us into my personal favourite, “Mogwai Fear Satan” from their debut LP. This is Mogwai in a rather large nutshell and if there is a greater rush in music than when the wall of guitars re-enters having been taken down to near silence, I’d love to hear it. You can see the band toying with the audience’s expectations at this point, knowing that they are about to be hit by the power of the music but holding back on that final step into the light.
“Remurdered” and “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” were explored at length, emphasising the assimilation of keyboards into Mogwai’s palette and also putting to bed the accusation that it is all about the quiet/loud/quiet/louder dynamic.
Mogwai are continuing to evolve both in a studio and live environment. After over twenty years as a going concern, this is something to value and treasure. Long may they continue.