Mogwai: Turner Hall Ballroom, 5-9-09

Mon May 18 2009

The thing about Mogwai is that if you dwell on the studio material too much, you can get really burnt out and discouraged and completely forget how amazing the band is live if you go, say, five and a half years without seeing it. It’s not that The Hawk Is Howling is a bad album. In fact, it was a relief after Mr. Beast. But it still sounds like Muzak compared to the live Mogwai experience, just as all the albums do.

I have to admit that I was a bit pensive after they played my two favorite songs, “Hunted By A Freak” and “You Don’t Know Jesus”, back-to-back right in the beginning of the set. Thankfully, these were hardly the highlights of the set. Sleepers from Beast such as “Friend Of The Night” and “Auto Rock” wound up shattering my consciousness, while the sludgy heaviness of the Hawk material was parceled out economically, opening the show with “The Precipice”, slipping “I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School” in the middle, and closing with the incendiary “Batcat”. Plus, this was my first experience with “Summer”, which the band seemed to reject for years after it showed up in that TV commercial; it was ruthlessly ecstatic here. But the highlight for me was the penultimate “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong”, a purely angelic dirge that made me feel as though I was levitating. The “Helicon 1” encore was perfect, and even though I might’ve hoped for “My Father My King”, the finale of “We’re No Here” was revelatory, the patented steady tension extended beyond tolerance, and the glorious release, encapsulating the essence that countless bands have stolen but none have come close to equaling.

Let’s cut to the chase: Sigur Rós, Russian Circles, Mono, Isis, Appleseed Cast, Pelican, Cult Of Luna, Explosions In The Sky, you all might as well pay 50% royalties to Mogwai on every cent you rake in from now on, but you’ll never quite grasp that elusive combination of raw energy and wordless melody. It’s the rare artist that can make me walk out of a show excited to reexamine the records I never liked purely based on the impact of the live performance. I’d thought that maybe Mogwai was on its way out, but I walked out of Turner with 100% renewed faith as well as ringing ears, even if I knew in the back of my mind that those records still aren’t going to do much for me…
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