Saturday, 15 March 2014

Mogwai - Usher Hall (8th March 2014)

As part of the centenary celebrations of Edinburgh's magnificent Usher Hall, bringing together contemporary and classical music, and comedy across five nights, I was drawn to the great city to see Mogwai. Not only a Scottish institution and much maligned 'cult' band, Mogwai are in the highest echelons of musical greatness, and the chance to see one of the best bands in the world was too good to pass up.

So, armed with train tickets, a guest house booking and gig tickets for the upper circle, I ventured north of the border via London for a weekend of culture and music. I took the opportunity to see Edinburgh's sights - the Castle, Palace, Royal Mile, Cathedral, Arthur's Seat and National Monument, the pubs and restaurants, and the hoards of French descended on the capital for the 6 Nations rugby. But the highlight was Saturday Night at Usher Hall, at 7pm. Waiting for the doors to open, to be escorted up the stairs and through the corridors and bars to the concert auditorium with its rows of seats looking down on the stage and stalls - the excitement quickened.

Mogwai's support for the night were two other Scottish bands: Remember Remember and The Pastels. Both did much with the limited time they had - two half hour sets flew by. It would be easy to describe Remember Remember as 'Mogwai-lite' but they bring their own personality to their music - delicate xylophone, keyboards and interesting electronic flourishes. The Pastels added vocals and a more organic depth, but kicked off with Slow Summits, a blistering 6-minute instrumental, before more typical songs from the full-on Baby Honey to the delicate Summer Rain. Both bands seemed to enjoy and relish the experience.

But it was Mogwai's night. A stage packed with amps, keyboards, a huge drum-kit and guitar stands awaited Stuart, Dominic, Martin, John and Barry, complete with 'Rave Tapes' themed lighting rig and graphics looming above. The set for the night wasn't entirely dominated by the latest album - no bad thing but there was barely room for the best of the rest - and the Mogwai back catalogue is extensive and impressive in any live environment. This was the full set:

Heard About You Last Night
Rano Pano
Helicon 1
Take Me Somewhere Nice
Master Card
I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
Hunted By A Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan
How To Be A Werewolf
We're No Here
The Lord Is Out Of Control
Ithica 27/9

The best of the set was the trio of Hunted By A Freak, the epic Mogwai Fear Satan (complete with fantastic explosive reboot) and the swirling guitars of How To Be A Werewolf. The mighty We're No Here completed the main set before a subdued encore climaxed with the awesome ferocious noise of Batcat. Within the venue, the sound slicing through the crowd and echoing from the rafters, reflected back into the stalls, the immense force of guitars and drums were amplified beyond belief. I could feel the music pounding in my chest as much as in my ears, even from my lofted vantage point (a brilliant view down on the stage). The loud became louder. The delicate melodies were somewhat lost in the noise at times but even the set's weaker songs were given a new dimension - most notably Master Card had a much needed lift, and the new songs sounded brilliant live. It would have great to hear more from The Hawk Is Howling...and in a set designed to showcase the new material (obviously), there was no Friend Of The Night, Auto Rock, You Don't Know Jesus or R U Still In 2 It. They were never going to create a set to please everyone.

So my first experience of Mogwai live was a unique and overwhelming experience. As we left the Usher Hall, still shaking from the acoustic-battering (both the crowd and the building), I overheard someone say they had seen Mogwai live many times but that was one of the loudest. They set out to do the venue and their kin proud, and they really did bring the noise.
-- CS

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