Mogwai: The Vic, 5/16/2014
Posted 05/19/2014 by cal
Mogwai bears the burden of perfecting its own style of music simply by inventing it. The movement carries on, and Mogwai with it, in varying degrees of dilution. Everything that has come after, say, 2001's Rock Action hasn't quite stacked up because it had already been done, and not just by Mogwai but by its innumerable imitators as well. Happy Songs For Happy People and Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will are great albums, but along the way were plenty of retreads and awkward sidetracks. Mogwai essentially drifted through a decade in a relative creative stasis before releasing Rave Tapes earlier this year, which is proving to be the first significant evolution in the band's sound in ages. I've felt for years that Mogwai isn't the same band that changed my life when I first experienced it live at The Vic in 2001. Friday night at The Vic, this was no longer a bad thing.
It's probably been a wise decision for Mogwai to shed the viciousness of youth as the members approach 40; even the metallic bent of The Hawk Is Howling seemed a bit of a stretch in 2008. It's only natural that the band embrace a more overtly electronic style as on new tracks like "Remurdered" and "Deesh", but when you're craving Mogwai, those songs aren't going to satisfy you. So it was quite a revelation to witness them becoming Mogwai songs in the live setting, churning and exploding in ferocious swaths of noise, making you forget how it was that they started out. When the band did lean on heavy evil guitar—"I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead", "We're No Here", "Batcat"—it didn't seem forced, spread out over the broader stylistic palette. The Mogwai sound is so distinctive that even hundreds of post-rock clones haven't cheapened it, and the current ran through every song, bringing the different eras together in a way I didn't feel like they had accomplished the previous couple of times I'd seen them.
Of course, it's somewhat maddening that they don't play any of my old favorites any more. I suppose I can be content with having caught the de-facto greatest-hits tour of 2009 with its "Hunted By A Freak" and "You Don't Know Jesus" and "Ithica 27 ϕ 9" and "Summer" and "Helicon 1", but that show was admittedly choppy even if its highs were incredibly high. Maybe the time for epic "My Father My King" encores is past. I'll take my "Christmas Steps" kickdown and smile; I'm just thankful they now have some terrific new songs to play as well, and that they flow so well within the repertoire. The "Deesh"/"Remurdered" pairing was basically the show-stopper of the night, and none of the new material seemed unimportant. (Seriously, though, omitting Happy Songs For Happy People entirely while playing two from Mr. Beast is hurtful.) But "Mogwai Fear Satan" in the encore was incredible; whether it's revitalized or never lost its luster I'm not sure, but it was a jet-engine roar of joy.
Most would argue that Kevin Shields
is most responsible for the reinvention of the non-mainstream rock music that would define everything that came afterwards, and all due respect to Slint as well for its obvious influence, but Mogwai canonized meditative, melodramatic guitar music for the world and is the most blatantly copied act of the past two decades. It's gratifying to discover that the originators are still at least pushing their own boundaries a little, and that they're still untouchable in doing what they do.