Feb 16, 2023
By Dom Gourlay
Photography by Michael Prince
When commentators discuss groundbreaking musical acts, one name that rarely gets a mention is that of Mogwai. Yet they’ve undoubtedly been one of the most revolutionary bands to emerge in decades, not only in terms of taking guitar music to places it could only dream of, but also their subsequent embracing of electronics and natural progression into film scores. Whether it’s by inadvertently inventing genres (“post-rock”) or inspiring a legion of artists both old and new in their wake – The Cure and Manic Street Preachers are just two household names of many among Mogwai’s adoring fanbase – the Glasgow four-piece were arguably the last truly influential band of the twentieth century. So, it goes without saying the commercial success that came their way last year thanks to As The Love Continues hitting number one in the album charts was richly deserved. As a result, this tour was long sold out in all bar a couple of venues which again, is testament to the band’s perseverance and never say die attitude.
First up though are Brainiac, themselves an inspirational act in the formative years of tonight’s headliners and numerous others including Muse and At The Drive-In. Playing their first UK shows in over a quarter of a century, the quartet from Dayton, Ohio make an exquisite noise that sits somewhere between post-punk, grunge and hardcore. “Vincent Come On Down” off highly acclaimed third album Hissing Prigs In Static Couture is perhaps their most recognisable song here, and it’s fair to say their wares are well received by an audience only too happy to have their ears challenged by Brainiac’s stop-start musical juggernaut. With more shows planned later this year, now’s as good a time as any to welcome back Brainiac after the tragic and untimely death of original singer/multi-instrumentalist Tim Taylor in 1997 understandably put an end to the band soon after.
With a set especially chosen to coincide with this Valentine’s evening, you could be forgiven for thinking Mogwai are about to go all soft and mushy on us. On the contrary, if anything, tonight’s career spanning setlist highlights every single facet that makes Mogwai one of the most enticing musical ensembles on the planet and indeed, has done for decades. Playing as a five-piece this evening; long term band members Stuart Braithwaite, Dominic Aitchison, Martin Bulloch and Barry Burns joined by regular touring guitarist Alex Mackay. Mogwai are a gargantuan beast in the flesh, even more so than on record. While opener “To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth” eases everyone in and last year’s “Boltfor” flexes the dancing muscles a little, a haunting rendition of “Killing All The Flies” off 2003’s Happy Songs For Happy People complete with Burns on vocoder (not for the only time this evening, which provides an indicator of what’s to come) leaves all and sundry in no doubt that Mogwai mean business this evening.
Saying little between songs, Mogwai let their music do the talking instead. With Braithwaite on guitar and bassist Aitchison serving as formidable presences out front, the Mogwai live experience isn’t for the faint hearted. A point which is heavily accentuated around the midpoint of the set when new meets old as a thunderous “Drive The Nail” gives way to a skyscraping rendition of “Summer” off their 1997 debut Mogwai Young Team, that while being the oldest composition in tonight’s set still sounds as fresh and invigorating as it first did some twenty-five years ago. “George Square Thatcher Death Party” finds Burns on vocoder again for what becomes a celebratory four minutes before an equally seismic “Remurdered” off 2014’s Rave Tapes takes proceedings to pulsating heights of ecstasy.
As an extended “Ratts Of The Capital” and blistering “Old Poisons” bring the first set to its natural conclusion, it’s two of their most loved compositions; again from both tail ends of the band’s career; that lift tonight’s show to another stratosphere altogether. Stuart Braithwaite’s lead vocal cameo on “Ritchie Sacramento” encourages something no one ever thought they see or hear at a Mogwai show; an audience singalong. While a closing rendition of “My Father My King” that lasts a few seconds short of twenty-five minutes almost takes the roof off Rock City, such as the ferocity with which its delivered.
It’s a triumphant return to Nottingham for the Glaswegian outfit, and one that wholeheartedly reaffirms Mogwai’s status as one of the most sensational live bands in the world. Miss them at your peril.