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Live Review and Photos: Mogwai, May 10, 2011, The Mayan – Los Angeles, CA



Whether you want to call it post-rock, instrumental rock, or experimental rock, it has been a good year if you are a fan of the abstract, often wordless, and highly evocative music. Godspeed You! Black Emperor toured, Battles are finally releasing a new album, Explosions In The Sky returned and, of course, there is Mogwai.

Mogwai are like a religious experience for the hoodied and bearded. Before their set Tuesday night at The Mayan in Downtown Los Angeles, the long-term Mogwains were clear in their anticipation that this was to be the best show, like, ever. But, where there is diehard fandom, there is also skepticism. On stage, Mogwai don’t play rock star; there are no leg kicks, punk jumps, or hair whips. They, basically, just stand there and play songs. So what happens when a guy who is not hugely into Mogwai gets treated to nearly two hours of steadily building guitar jams? He falls in love, of course.

Opening the show was another Scottish act, Errors. Announcing awkwardly that this was their first time in Los Angeles, the group quickly revealed that speaking was not their strong suit. Luckily, their musicianship far exceeded their set banter. Most of their songs were anchored by heavy bass or synth grooves, or, sometimes, both, laying a firm foundation for their progressive melodies and accenting bleeps and bloops. Errors, also, clearly realize that primarily instrumental music relies on payoffs, and their tunes offered plenty. And, perhaps most importantly, Errors played into the atmosphere of the evening, providing appropriate and able support for their countrymen

There is a certain cleanliness to Mogwai. Their stage setup saw the members spread as far apart as possible, offering little interaction during the set and only saw them addressing the crowd on a couple short occasions. Rather, their music spoke volumes about the band. See, the reason Mogwai don’t need to jump or kick or, uh, whip, is that their music does that for them. But, even more impressive than the implied physical rewards that come from nearly every song was the pacing of the set, which steadily swelled from calm to chaos.

Both “White Noise” and “Friend Of The Night” set out to take control of the audience, showing the band at their nuanced best. So by the time the fuzzy “Rano Piano” appeared, the audience had become acclimatised to the sonic blasts from the band, making the blanketing standout not seem like a slap, but, rather, a firm gloved handshake. From there, the set leaned heavily on their recent album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, with nearly all of the songs appearing in the setlist and revealing themselves as strong assets to the group’s repertoire, with the magnificent mover “Mexican Grand Prix” and the unquestionably beautiful “Death Rays” being particularly striking.

Behind the band were video projections ranging from colorful light displays to car-view travels to cityscapes. The visual enhancement was never enough to distract from watching the five-piece tinker and toy with their respective instruments, but provided short breaks when the music was enough to completely zone the attendee out. And though they were effective, they were unnecessary, as Mogwai proved that though the live music experience is highly visual, it can be enough to just listen to some really good music at really high volumes.

To conclude the evening, Mogwai outdid their previous evening highpoint with their oldest song in the set, “Mogwai Fear Satan.” Clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, the piece culminated with each member leaving stage one at a time, neatly securing their instrument on their stand or, in Barry Burns’ case, packing up his laptop and chord. The last to leave were Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings, who spent minutes hunched on the ground looping effects on top of effects. Finally, the two waved to the crowd and left the sounds rolling as the audience stared at an empty stage until a couple of technicians killed the feed. It was a testament to how music can transfix, how even an empty stage of Mogwai sounds can keep a crowd silent and still. In short, it was triumphant.

Setlist:

White Noise
Friend Of The Night
Rano Piano
I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
Death Rays
I Know You Are But What Am I?
San Pedro
How To Be A Werewolf
Mexican Grand Prix
New Paths To Helicon, Pt. 1
You’re Lionel Richie
Batcat

George Square Thatcher Death Party
Mogwai Fear Satan


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