Mogwai @ The SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 16 Dec
Mogwai focus heavily on new material for their momentous night at The Hydro, but there are still moments of brilliance at one of their biggest shows ever
At first glance, it might seem odd to see Mogwai headlining Scotland’s biggest indoor arena, and not just because they’ve never been ones to chase the limelight. From the ironically named Happy Songs for Happy People to the slowcore-esque Come On Die Young, many of the band’s albums are remembered as slow, sparse affairs. And yet, the beauty of Mogwai is they’re just as well known for doing the exact opposite.
The Glasgow instrumentalists’ ability to transition from quiet introspection to full-on metal brutality within a matter of minutes is inimitable, with so many critics having called their shows “deafening” over the past 20-odd years it’s now something of a cliché. Support act Ride have been assembling their own psychedelic soundscapes for a similar length of time. They set the tone for the night nicely, revisiting classic tracks from their earliest albums and EPs. As well as sharing a sense of sonic adventure with the headliners, they’re similarly uninterested in stage theatrics, living up to the shoegaze tag literally.
Strangely, though, the crowd themselves feel oddly solemn for the first chunk of Mogwai’s set. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of commitment on stage – Mogwai open with ‘hits’ like Jim Morrison, I’m Dead and Hunted by a Freak, while riffier numbers such as Rano Pano also get a run out. Nor is it down to the young touring musicians standing in for core members – if anything, Honeyblood drummer Cat Myers injects real energy into the group’s performance.
But the reception feels more muted than it has done at other landmark shows, such as the back-to-back ‘career retrospective’ nights at Barrowlands in 2015. So it might have more to do with the emphasis on newer material: the band play six tracks from Every Country’s Sun, which gives the set a freshness but perhaps underwhelms the bulk of followers who expected more of a nostalgia trip for an arena show.
Including a Cody or a Christmas Steps may have satisfied the more sentimental fan, but it’s not as if Mogwai don’t make any adjustments for the bigger stage. They fill The Hydro with stunning light shows for the likes of Mogwai Fear Satan and New Paths to Helicon part 1, and the effect is nothing short of spellbinding. More importantly, the track’s sprawling guitar lines and mammoth crescendos wash away any doubts to whether their sound would translate properly in an arena.
By the band’s closer We’re No Here, decimating eardrums with an intense loop of feedback, the crowd have transformed into something more akin to a transfixed religious congregation. Whether it’s enough to convince the purists is more dubious, but the band’s raw power is ultimately enough to captivate even an audience as gigantic as this.