Mogwai @ Barrowland, Glasgow, 21 June

Live Review by Claire Francis | 26 Jun 2015

Mogwai have always been reticent, both in the vocal-to-instrumental ratio of their output, and also in their propensity towards onstage chit-chat. Yet tonight the group’s pleasure in playing to their home crowd is palpable. They modestly but profusely thank their audience and effuse over a long-time fondness for their chosen venue, the cavernous Barrowland Ballroom.

A three-strong assemblage of support acts is the precursor to this 20th anniversary set, the second in this back-to-back Barrowland jubilee. Duo Sacred Paws, signed to Mogwai’s own Rock Action label, exhibit the influence of their beneficiaries in their skittish drumbeats and intricate guitar arrangements, while the dark majesty of Forest Swords complements the headliner’s complex soundscapes. In contrast, the light folk-pop melodies of Glaswegian stalwarts The Vaselines are a curious antithesis to Mogwai’s distinctive post-proggish bent, but the band are enthusiastically received, particularly by the more senior members of the audience.

Loquacious they are not, but then the absolute power of Mogwai’s music has always been visceral rather than verbal. The ferocious play between light and dark engenders an emotive response to the group’s aural odysseys. When at full throttle, as in the crashing You Don’t Know Jesus, augmented by exploding sheets of light, there’s a hypnotic quality to their aggression – the tangible body high of a sonic opiate. Yet tranquillity also abounds, in the celestial notes of Tracy, in Stuart Braithwaite’s impassioned guitar playing, and in the heartbreakingly beautiful, dolorous notes that signal Christmas Steps.

The aggregate of Mogwai’s magnetism moves like a tidal wave, gathering force through Remurdered’s insidious synth and spitfire drumming, and peaking within the Arabesque-metal crescendos of My Father, My King. A three-song encore is the gentle antidote to the high, illuminated by the exuberant, crowd-satisfying Mogwai Fear Satan. In a majestic set spanning the two-decade might of their work, they artfully walk the delicate tightrope between chaos and calm, and to hear the group live tonight is to really know the magic of their music.