The last time Boston was graced by the five men of MOGWAI, trees have shed their leaves three times. Their planned 2008 September visit was suddenly canceled after their incendiary gig at All Tomorrow’s Parties in New York (probably my favorite set all weekend) when drummer MARTIN BULLOCH‘s pacemaker was precariously poking through his skin, forcing the band to forgo the next day’s scheduled show and head back home. Martin’s back in good health, and the band took the opportunity to not only make up the half-dozen or so cancellations but also to expand it into a four week tour. Since there wasn’t a massive promotional push for their last and excellent record, The Hawk Is Howling, that meant more freedom in the set lists. I’d never been inside the Wilbur before, and its cavernous interior (two balconies, the top one a vertiginous climb at least 40 feet off the floor) was the perfect challenge for the Glaswegians to try and fill it with the massive crescendos they are known for. Dynamics are the trump card of the band, and they don’t let vocals or lyrics get in the way of the mission; what little vocals BARRY BURNS did offer were folded, spindled and mutilated through some sort of electronic device, making it just another strand of timbre to the aural mesh.
If you are looking for taut, tightly executed pop songs, you’d best look elsewhere (can I interest you in fellow Scots THE DELGADOS perhaps?), but if you want to experience power and beauty in equal doses, I cannot think of a better band. The secret to Mogwai, as far as I can figure out, lies in their simplicity. It’s utterly elegant, the crafty motifs they slowly sculpt, adding bits and layers until it’s a monolith. Then the whole thing crashes down on your head, filling the existing space with decibels upon decibels. Tonight they started out a bit slowly, with “The Precipice” a perfect opener, a vague sense of menace gradually building until the guitars resolve their differences and unite into a thundering salvo. The show really took off and stayed there when “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” hit the air, STUART BRAITHWAITE rigidly rocking back and forth, stomping on pedals and blasting shards of noise everywhere; the guitar was not the only tool employed as later he would kneel down and maniacally turn and twist effects box dials during “I Know What You Are But What Am I?”
Other surprises included “Killing All The Flies,” where DOMINIC AITCHESON‘s thundering bass fairly caves in your cranium at the midpoint climax, and the loping “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” felt like a celebration. The stately “Friend Of The Night” had Barry’s keyboards dovetail perfectly with Martin’s expert use of the ride cymbal, and JOHN CUMMINGS kicked up all kinds of magnetic clouds, forced to the very tips of his toes while wringing all the sound he could out of his black Telecaster.
Stuart took over bass duties for “Helicon” and Barry added guitar on the monstrous riffage of set closer “Batcat.” Mogwai are clearly a band; there is no de facto leader, just five guys who equally pull their weight, and the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. If your tympani were not caved in yet, the twenty minute mammoth that is “My Father My King” flayed them into small flesh ribbons by the time the final feedback howl was squelched. I will never tire of this band (I ended up traveling out to see them the next night at Pearl Street.)
Openers THE TWILIGHT SAD also hailed from Scotland; they stuck to a more traditional orientation of song, with singer JAMES GRAHAM striking a side profile for most of the songs while stepping on and/or over his mic stand. The drum pattern reminded me of THE NATIONAL, alternating a single and double snare beat, and guitarist ANDY MACFARLANE lashing together loose bundles of guitar wash, in a style not too dissimilar to what JULIAN SWALES did on the more boisterous KITCHENS OF DISTINCTION material. However, the band is no match for KoD’s melodic touch, and James’ vocals are not nearly as skilled. “Cold Days From The Birdhouse” was the highlight, the naked a capella intro dissolving into a brash cry of wailing guitars and crashing cymbals.
As always, more photos of this (and other) shows can be found on my site