Live Review: Mogwai at The Tramway Theatre, Glasgow

If there’s one major drawback about the idea of livestreamed gigs, it is that of volume and the ability to lose yourself in the sound. For a band like Mogwai, who have traded in noise and melodic immersiveness for over 20 years, to attempt a streamed event must mean that they have a good idea of how to make it worthwhile – or it could just be that they really miss playing gigs, just as much as we miss attending them.

With their 10th studio album As The Love Continues arriving this Friday, February 19, it must be both strange and upsetting for the band that they can’t immediately be out sharing it with the world as it’s meant to be experienced. So this streamed concert is their way to forge some semblance of the connection between themselves and their fans that they usually do. 

From the beginning of their As The Love Continues film, they made it completely clear that this concert was not going out live – in fact it was filmed in Glasgow all the way back last November, but only just aired on Saturday night. This probably meant that they recorded a few takes, or took a lot of time rehearsing camera movements, lighting etc. – which certainly paid off in the final product. Surely nobody can have had any qualms about it not being beamed truly ‘live’ considering the dearth of live music experiences currently available, and the fact of the final product’s excellence.

The film opened with some shots of them recording the album in Vada Studios in England’s rural midlands and beaming their work across the world to producer Dave Fridmann in his Tarbox Road Studio in upstate New York. This introduction was a nice snapshot of working life for recording musicians during the pandemic, and a way of letting fans know about the extra pain staked to record As The Love Continues.

Although, once they started playing – the bulk of the set being As The Love Continues played from beginning to end – there were no signs of additional strain to be detected. In fact, the Scots’ 10th album is one of their strongest in quite some years, and this film is both a celebration and testament to that. True to their character, Mogwai didn’t see any need to pull out any overtly grand extra stops to bolster the film. Instead, it played very much like a normal gig: the members in t-shirts and hoodies, stoically and studiously playing their instruments, their bodies’ sway revealing their concentration on the ebb and flow of their elemental sound. The lights and camerawork followed suit, rarely getting overly showy, but providing just the right amount of proximity and precision to capture the songs’ grandiosity.

This in turn allowed the audience to really listen to the album and see just how the interconnected pieces fit together to form its electrifying whole. Mostly captured on miniature cameras fixed in place, the band were un-inhibited by their presence and able to simply lose themselves in the performance. While the majority of the show featured flicking between shots of the members, standing like epic totems silhouetted by the bright sheets of light, there were some spells where the images would focus in on one in particular to emphasise their importance to the moment. 

Just like the songs themselves, these technical moments were patient and sparing, letting the tension steadily build before pulling off something flashy. Most notably was the low-angle fish-eye effect on Stuart Braithwaite as he ripped his solo on “Ritchie Sacramento”; the way the synths seemed to work in tandem with the stage’s luminescence, as if they were powering the whole operation on “Dry Fantasy”; and one particularly memorable moment when the camera did a slow 360 degree loop while focused on drummer Martin Bulloch during the supremely dramatic “Drive The Nail”. 

Although this play-through would have been a first listen to As The Love Continues for most, the set still had the same shape and craft of a normal performance – only going to show how strong and well-paced the album is. Gorgeously curdling centrepiece “Fuck Off Money” was just as much a mid-set tentpole as any of their classics would have been, and the steady build to the finale was imperious. A mention has to go to the euphoric “Midnight Flit”, which conjured a bright vision of a not-so-distant future where we’ll all be back at gigs again, coming home late on a weeknight exhausted and smelling, but utterly elated from the experience. 

Upon completion of their run through As The Love Continues, Mogwai jumped straight into the ‘encore’, picking two favourites from their extensive catalogue. Following the grandiose finale to the main set, the rip-roaring “How To Be A Werewolf” picked up the pace with an injection of quicksilver beauty. Finally, they stretched right back to their beginning with a performance of “Like Herod”, the monumental favourite from their 1997 debut album. For those blissful 10+ minutes, Mogwai played the track as if they never had before, everyone from performers to lighting to cameras on high alert, rushing in and with the vicious undulations of the song’s repeated detonation and collapse. For a moment, the barriers of time, distance and technology entirely dissolved; a truly a transcendent experience to cap a rip-roaring success of an evening.