Live Report - Mogwai & Aidan John Moffat
Posted on Sunday, 26 January 2014 | No Comments
Oh man, they even did the one that goes quiet then loud!
To say that Mogwai is not the usual sort of turn you would expect to see at the Tyne Theatre would be understatement of the most pointless kind. Browsing through the rest of the events they have lined up, we have Liza Minnelli's creepy ex doing a set of soul classics, a new tour from the seemingly immortal childhood puppet favourite Sooty and, most remarkably of all, we have The Chuckle Brothers performing their own unqiue tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rumours that this last performance will involve HAL 9000 telling the hapless comedy duo to stop slacking while Paul and Barry carry the space baby across time and space, yelling "to me! to you!" across the vast, unimaginable black expanse of the cosmos with the final reveal that the Big Bang was actually just them dropping their cargo as per bloody usual have yet to be confirmed, although I for one just can't wait to find out.
Indeed, the few times that a rock band ends up at the Tyne Theatre due to some kind of error on the part of their booking agent, they normally end up spending most of their time working against a room that just isn't designed for the task at hand: the beautiful Victoria layout is a wonderful place to catch some comedy or theatre, but it's hard to sufficiently rock out when you're cramped in the middle of a row of old uncomfortable stalls seating. My own last experience of a rock gig here was some four years back, when British Sea Power, one of the nation's most delightful and consistent live acts, struggled to pull off the euphoric lift-off that usually comes to them with indecent ease when faced with rows of fans stuck in their seats for the likes of Remember Me and Who's In Control. It's always going to be a pleasure to have Mogwai in the toon, of course, but surely there must be a more suitable room for them here?
But the Tyne Theatre it was for the first date of their tour in support of their latest album Rave Tapes, so the Tyne Theatre then that I had to be. The logic of the booking was presumably that, given Mogwai had returned to the more intricate, subtle work typical of their recent releases following the surprisingly energetic (and all the better for it) Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, there wouldn't be much need for any movement beyond a slight nodding of the head. It's a line of thought that works well until you actually think about what happens when Mogwai play live, where even their most subdued material gains a venemous new edge while their heavier stuff turns into grand, deafening symphonies. So while Rave Tapes might be a generally melodic listen on record, an album best distinguished by its introduction of modular synths to the trademark Mogwai sound, it could hardly be a surprise that on stage, things get turned up big time. With the subtle electronic and dance flirtations of their last two albums making an impact on their live show as well (not counting the haunting Les Revenants soundtrack), their amount of all-seated venues their current tour is set to take in is downright perverse. Not the first time that Mogwai could have been accused of being such, of course, but even with their gleefully un-industry, un-obvious way of carrying themselves, this is downright weird.
The application of theatre time rather than usual gig time means that much of the audience is still at the bar when supporting act Aidan John Moffat strolls onto the stage, autoharp clutched to his chest and a thick mass of greying beard keeping an aesthetic unity with the stereotypically hirsute audience you might expect at a Mogwai gig. With his autoharp providing his only accompanyment tonight, he dives into a set that makes the most of his subdued burr and his reliably bleak and bitterly comic ruminations on love and lust. There's also an appearance for a re-interpreted version of Arab Strap's superb I Would Have Liked Me A Lot Last Night, before the end of his brief set springs a real surprise. Putting his autoharp aside, he declares his intention to read out a new children's story of his - which, for anyone familiar with his lyrics, would seem like some absurd joke. And yet, as the audience awaits the surely inevitable punchline, keeps listening out for the fusilade of fuck's and cunt's that usually pepper Moffat's work, it turns out that he's being entirely serious. And so we get a short-warm-hearted tale about familial love triumphing over commercialism. It's a sweet little thing made remarkable by its source. Old dog, meet a new trick.
Thankfully though, almost everyone manages to get to their seat in time for Mogwai to ring out the first hesitant piano chords of I Heard About You Last Night, Rave Tapes' gentle yet enthralling opener and the first song the band gets stuck into tonight. The new album, inevitably, makes up a fair portion of the set-list, but there's very little to complain about this. The omnious lurch of Deesh is classic Mogwai slow-build, Blues Hour a rare and fragil vocal track that builds into a glorious shoegaze squall and closer The Lord Is Out of Control a vocoder piece that, if slightly over-produced on record, makes for a fine heir to the mighty Hunted by a Freak in the live set. Most impressive of all though is main set closer Remurdered, the epic centerpiece of Rave Tapes' first side. It's the track when their newly acquired modular synths get to take center stage with a malovent, John Carpenter-esque sound, and even on this early outing it's turned into a genuine monster live, building and building the tension before finally letting loose in one of the most poerful crescendos the band have ever let loose to date.
Indeed, it's a night dominated by recent Mogwai work, and it's a set that cunningly lays to rest the notion that Mogwai have ever gone off the boil. Although their recording output since has shied away from the monolithic presence of Young Team and Come On Die Young, their songwriting has been remarkably consistent, finding new ways to evoke curious new melodies whilst keeping ther trademark interplay intact. Only the early blast of Ithica 27-9 and the spiralling Come On Die Young epic Ex-Cowboy represent their older work, and whilst they sound as brilliant as ever (especially the mighty Ex-Cowboy, a song sometimes unfortunately overlooked thanks to being on the same record as Christmas Steps), many of the great stand-outs come from their last three albums. Friend of the Night is one of their most gorgeous works ever, Rano Pano one of their most monolithic riffs ever (also the song where it becomes clear that even these genteel circumstances, Mogwai still go way beyond 11) and the two selections from The Hawk Is Howling, I'm Jim Morrison I'm Dead and Batcat suggesting that beneath that record's overly flat production were yet more Mogwai classics. Their sound may have slowly evolved rather than lept forward, but this progressive and forward-looking setlist was a sign of a band still operating on a remarkable creative level, and still plying their trade as one of the most awe-inspiring live acts around. But for goodness sake, just let me stand next time you're in Newcastle.