MINOR VICTORIES: live review

OXFORD O2, 13/12/2016

Stuart Braithwaite. STUART BLOODY BRAITHWAITE.

If Mogwai are anywhere near being one of your all-time top bands, you’re not gonna miss a chance to see the owner of THAT guitar sound – one of the biggest and unassumingly most influential in the whole rock landscape – doing his stuff a mere few feet away, are you?

No. And this explains why Minor Victories at Oxford’s O2 – on the small stage upstairs – became a last-minute must-see (thanks Nightshift for the tip) in the last month of the year. With band members from Slowdive, Editors and the Twilight Sad in the band and on stage tonight, there’s plenty of pedigree kicking about.

Expectations? Pop-ish electro-tinged rock – iced cool atmos, verse-chorus Rock Action accessibility, nothing fierce, a background role for the ‘gwai guy … an essence rather than a force. The reality? All of the above but louder and less restrained in all the right places. Give Up the Ghost opens up with arena-baiting stomp and a toughened half riff that gives a teasing glimpse of Braithwaite in action, and what follows is a set of surging, widescreen orchestrations with moto-Stereolab pulsations and the UNKLE Psyence heavyweight drum break (Breaking My Light), all topped by Rachel Goswell’s overfloater vocals. ’tis rich and spacious and fulsome – a proper group effort, definitely not the look of a band who made an album without being in the same room.

And what of the guitarist’s proposed delegation to Background Lurker? Not even close. Sure, this band ain’t Mogwai monolithic but where there’s space, where there’s soar and uplift and tumult, there’s S.B.Uncut, swaying and tussling and just about taming that wild guitar energy EXACTLY as you’d hoped, but didn’t really have the nerve to expect. If Boris (Attention Please version) indulged in a little Sigur Ros or Pumpkins’ Adore, you might get something a bit like Minor Victories live – oversized alt-pop roughed up at the edges by volume – and for anyone with Mogwai love in their bones, this gig makes for a pretty special moment-o.

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:

“Good evening OXFOORRRRRRRRRRRD!!!”

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.