Mogwai – Hammersmith Apollo 24/10/2008
Their legend completely installed in the story of post rock and experimental instrumental music, the return of Mogwai is not quite the hero’s welcome one might reserve for acts of similar stature. The reason for this is that, admirably, the Glasgow stalwarts appear to have no conception of their own success or attention that anyone might give them beyond the most practical things – enough people turn up to gigs, enough records are sold to make a living. That they’ve carved such a niche is remarkable, and Hammersmith reaps the reward of that staunch normality this evening.
Pieces from their latest offering, The Hawk Is Howling, signify a new focus on intricacy, on musical lines reacting against one another. Batcat is a good example of this – a simple, unusually ‘rock’ riff is explored, but most interest can be found in the background flourishes. It’s definitely in line with Mogwai’s battering volume guise, but the almost delicate licks underneath the chaos show that they have become more than experimenters in dynamic range. Similarly, Scotland’s Shame shows that they aren’t always so fussed about that dynamic range, instead swelling and dying without much fuss, but with a strong, beautiful melodic idea.
As these balding men glide about the stage, Stuart Braithwate occasionally hooded, it’s clear they have the same love of craft as they always have. There’s no sense of any new pieces being more important than old ones, there’s no back-catalogue shunning, it’s all apparently centred around creating the consummate live show. That, they manage very easily this evening. Christmas Steps retains its two points of shock value (listen to it if you’re not familiar with the two moments referred to here), and the encore-closing 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong is extended, freewheeling and judged perfectly.
Griping, though, must be directed at a sometimes-ridiculous audience. Have they no respect for an artist? Why pay money to then arrive drunk, dancing and shouting? There are times and places for dancing and drinking, and those who revel in dancing with literally no rhythmic aid from the music might make others less irksome by stopping. One man knocks a girl’s pint from her hand with his desire to judder about to white noise. No one’s happy about that. Do you think you get it more than everyone else by dancing with your hands in the air? Onlookers are not impressed that you can tell when the drums will kick in. They think you look stupid.