Mogwai At The Roundhouse

On a summer’s evening lurking outside a familiar meeting point whilst a punctuality shy editor takes his own sweet time to meet me, it occurs that in the right conditions waiting for a friend can be a perfectly acceptable way to kill a few moments. Even though I’ve only the brick breaker game on my moron phone to amuse me. Well, that and the moral dilemma of asking the lady waiting nearby if she actually is a post op Anthony, minus his Johnson.

Sometimes just watching the world walk by is enough.

Finally, my date arrives; looking younger, hotter, hairier and generally less exhausted than I. A situation he clearly delights in, no doubt imagining how my dishevelled state will reflect even more favourably in comparison to his smug, youthful features and narrow shoulders. The chronic back ache I acquired the previous day, whilst carrying my son around various London landmarks like a millstone with attention span issues and an insatiable appetite for raisins dangling from my neck, made my pangs of age related insecurity feel even sharper.

But as we stroll through the Camden lights, blissfully unaware of the latest tabloid scoop unravelling a matter of yards away from us, our chat about the already passé News International investigations dulls my feelings of pain. It’s not apparent whether tonight’s eagerly awaited iTunes Festival headliners Mogwai are aware of the events as they take the stage, certainly no mention is made of it.

For the uninitiated, Mogwai are a Scottish instrumental post rock four-piece who have cornered the market in guitar based, ambient and uplifting music. Enthusiastically welcomed by their renowned live support, tonight’s atmosphere seems rather muted compared with their normal live shows. Seeing as they’ve been around for the best part of two decades now, I suppose it’s pretty reasonable to assume both the band and congregation have all grown up a little along the way.

A state of events which my dickie back finds more than appealing. Briefly we contemplate requesting a move to the seated area. I have never felt older.

Opening track “White Noise”, a potent cocktail of guitar licks and effects pedals, sets the tone for the evening. Generally, Mogwai songs tend towards a familiar and mightily effective method; with single chords often repeated to an ear splitting, glorious crescendo.

By the climax of the piano led “I Know You Are But What Am I” it was difficult to separate the guitar feedback from the incessant wolf whistling from the mentally deficient aficionado to my right. A man-child so passionate about Mogwai that by the time the band are halfway through the set, he’s offered a couple of nearby revellers outside for the heinous crime of talking in a public place.

My initial instinct was that the neighbouring gentleman was not a Glaswegian proudly supporting his local band, despite my suspicions. His lack of self-awareness illustrated once more by his compulsive habit of shooting high pitched dog commands straight into my over stimulated ear canal.

I don’t quite understand why he’s causing such a ruckus, as part of Mogwai’s considerable musical appeal is as background music. I’m sure my whistling friend has, on occasion, stuck a bit of post rock on whilst trying to lure a young lady to his sleeping chamber. I’d even hazard a guess that he plays “Happy Songs for Happy People” when entertaining guests in a domestic dining environment.

I know I have.

And therein lies the flaw of a Mogwai live show. For all the building and life affirming majesty that their sound can create in “Friends Of The Night” and “How To Be A Werewolf”, their formulaic nature by its own definition becomes almost repetitive; with their lack of vocals representing the mute elephant on the stage.

Every moment of soaring, effect laden feedback stretches the chasm between audience and band ever wider. Even the rare vocal interlude of “Mexican Grand Prix” offers little respite, as it’s processed through yet another enhancer.

The overall effect is quite strange. At first moved by the beautiful soundscapes Mogwai create in The Roundhouse’s high ceilings and dramatic space which seems purpose built to accommodate them, I am eventually left cold by the band’s lack of any real connection with their audience.

All of this, coupled with my achy breaky back and probable over reaching expectations, makes the enduring of the evening to its conclusion a mountain that I, with regret, fail to conquer.

Maybe I should stick to dinner parties, where having a nice chat whilst listening to the lovely music is positively encouraged.

Frank Gardiner

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Dates ‘n stuff

July 2011