Mogwai returns to rock roots at Brooks Uni gig

Kevin WoodAnother one of Kevin’s reviews. 2006 must’ve been pretty good on Oxford music scene. The review was first published on BBC Oxford website on 3 April 2006.




Emerging slowly from clouds of dry ice, Stuart Braithwaite holds his arms aloft and leers at the audience, milking every liquid ounce of adoration pouring out of the capacity Brookes crowd. Leather clad and tattooed to the hilt, he leans into the mic and prepares to flex his power-metal pipes… silence is observed, then shattered, by a siren-like scream:


Of course, it’s nothing like that. This is Mogwai, not Motley Crue, and there’ll be none of that moronic rock star excess thank you very much, even if it is April 1st. What there WILL be, if all goes to plan, is a succession of lush instrumentals that swing from delicate to devastating and back again, delivered by a bunch of unassuming Glaswegians wearing jeans, T-shirts and woolly jumpers.

And go to plan it most certainly does. Opening with Auto Rock – a gig-starter if ever there was one – from new album Mr Beast, Mogwai ease effortlessly into their cinematic rock groove and turn in the kind of flawless performance you’d expect. Drawing heavily on the new record – Friend of the Night, Travel is Dangerous and Acid Food are among the newies aired – the band flirt only occasionally with their early stuff, and of all the back-catalogue encounters, it’s Hunted by a Freak that gets the biggest crowd response – no surprise, given its appearance on the FilmFour TV ad last year. So far, so good, so sublime… but maybe, just maybe, there’s a little something missing. Yes, everything is intense and delicate in all the right places, and the venue is awash with surging, hypnotic rhythms, but shouldn’t a gig – especially from a band this good – have a bit of something else? Something you can’t get from the CD? In other words, how do a band of instrumentalists create a proper live moment?

Simple. Turn it up.

Which is exactly what happened (or seemed to happen) for We’re No Here and Glasgow Mega-Snake, the two heaviest tracks from Mr Beast and the last two of the set. Did it make a difference? Oh yeah. Mogwai were now unleashing a bona fide rumble from the boots up, and a treble-heavy feedback squall from the ears down. The encore – a full-length My Father, My King, no less – carried it on further, assaulting the Students Union for another 20 minutes in a vicious, yet majestic, finale. Clearly, they still have a grip on the abrasive noisemeister within – just as well they still know when to cut it loose.

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