The 2017 January night before Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the USA, art-rock alchemists Mogwai played Berkeley in California. Inside the packed UC Theatre they stoically steered through Atomic, their 2016 soundtrack for Atomic: Living In Dread And Promise, northern Irish film director Mark Cousins’ devastating dissection of nuclear history as the film itself rolled out behind the band. Mogwai’s eerie symphonic intensity dramatically magnified the catastrophic imagery of actual armageddon. For some, it was a sensory overload too far.
Wow! People really like the Killers, don’t they? This tent is more than half empty. By the end i will be right at the front, leaning on the crash barrier. Which is awesome! And at no point do the band seem to mind one bit. They are entirely professional and entirely brilliant.
I honestly don’t mean to be a contrarian, and I genuinely believe that the Killers are putting on a great show, but the truth is I don’t like them. I wouldn’t walk twenty paces to hear them play. Whereas the epic, sweeping, majestic post-rock soundscapes of Mogwai would have me hiking over many a Scottish glen.
Where groups like Godspeed… might spend a half-hour on a movement, Mogwai stick to four or five minute songs, and focus far more on guitars and pedals. They must really know their pedals!
Anyway, it’s sort of the “don’t-bore-us-get-to-the-chorus” version of post-rock. It’s the same pattern of layering and building to a loud, orchestral version of a hook, but faster. I’m very fond of Mogwai, and while I can’t remember all these songs’ names, I can whistle along happily. Not that I do.
Every now and again a cool-looking girl comes out and plays a kettle drum really well (I know! Who knew that was a Thing?!). It seems to add a lot. Though in general I’m surprised that it’s possible to make this sort of noise with only five guys (plus kettle-drum-girl).
Standing here as the guitars build to squealing crescendo after howling crescendo after screeching crescendo, the bass so powerful it’s tickling my hair and scalp and upsetting my stomach, I don’t think I could be much happier.
Mogwai can be pensive. They can be angry. They can be sad (though not often actually). And they can properly rock out. And when they do, my word it is quite the experience! They can make mountains of feedback, valleys of bass. They turn distortion into a beautiful symphony.
At the end I wander out, slightly dazed by the intensity of the experience, to hear the triumphantly bland chords of Mr. Bright Side limp across the fields and I wish I could tell those people in the main arena what they just missed. But I can’t. It will remain a much more special and rarified experience, and one I certainly won’t forget any time soon.