Mogwai transcends, despite technical issues.

12/8/2017 – The Royale

It takes serious songwriting chops to be able to entrance audiences with ten-minute long songs with no vocals. Well-honed songs translate into commanding live performances, which is why Mogwai has been able to continue to captivate fans throughout a twenty-two year career and nine studio albums. At the Royale last Thursday, they earned their status of “best live band in the world” (according to opener, Xander Harris) by delivering an exalting show despite egregious technical setbacks that could have ruined the night.

The show began with a solo set from Texas synth wizard Xander Harris, who delivered a sinister, brooding set to a sparse audience that was still filing in. Using a table crowded with samplers and drum machines, Harris layered nostalgic synths supported by dense, pulsing beats.

Harris’s music is reminiscent of the Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s Stranger Things soundtrack, but more menacing. However, after Harris began to entrance the crowd he abruptly stopped the music and left the stage. Audience members audibly wondered why he didn’t just put on a beat loop without an announcement. No one would’ve ever guessed why he left the stage—turns out it was to use the bathroom. “I’m not trying to be unprofessional, I’m just trying not to piss my pants,” he said. 

After a long stage changeover (presumably to allow time for all band members to utilize the restroom), Mogwai finally took the stage with the slow burn, “Crossing The Road Material” from their new album Every Country’s Sun. The song is a succinct thesis of the band’s sound. As they played, each instrument began in slow succession, showcasing each musician’s part and how unique they are to each other. A clean guitar melody was met with a second overdriven guitar harmony, before being joined by a tight drum beat with bass and keyboards meandering around the spaces between the melodies. These disparate pieces created a greater whole with interlocking rhythms and melodies that were completely hypnotizing. These dense musical layers are found throughout Mogwai’s music, which is why their live sets are so entrancing.

Sadly, the spell was broken when the band was forced to leave the stage because the entire Royale PA system went down during the second song. After fifteen minutes of grumbling from concertgoers, the sound issues were fixed and Mogwai returned with a hard reset on the mood of the evening by playing the tranquil “Take Me Somewhere Nice.” They were able to win back the crowd by playing popular selections from their discography, including “Rano Pano,” “Auto Rock,” and “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead.” Most of the set was comprised of new songs from Every Country’s Sun, all of which fit in perfectly with the older material. The audience cheered just as eagerly for a new song as it did for a decade-old fan favorite.

To see Mogwai live is to feel totally engaged in the music. Seeing the five musicians on stage (a fill in drummer and an extra background musician was added for the tour) dole out epic soundscapes in person makes one follow the music as if it were a wordless narrative rather than just a song. The long instrumental passages become hypnotizing and engrossing, transporting one to a distant memory or feeling. This was most evident on the final song of the evening, “Mogwai Fear Satan,” a repetitive monster of a song clocking in at over fifteen minutes consisting of what is essentially the same chord progression the entire time.

By the time the song induces a feeling of bittersweet melancholy, the band suddenly blasts into high gear with walls of distorted guitars and blinding strobe lights, taking that bittersweet feeling and heightening it to its furthest reaches. The release after the intense parts makes one emotionally exhausted, a feeling not quite captured on record. It was difficult not to leave the show without feeling both elated and completely vulnerable.

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