Live Review: Mogwai at James Cabaret, Wellington

Mogwai James Cabaret Wellington Poster


w/ Mick Turner
James Cabaret, Wellington
Friday 6 March 2015

The term “post-rock” suggests that the genre of music has evolved beyond standard rock. And for Glaswegian act Mogwai, this appears accurate. They have gone past the standard band formula of guitar, bass, drums and vocals, expanding their sound with the use of synths, 12 string guitars, multiple drums (both electric and acoustic), vocoder and violin. Electric and analogue sounds marry to create something unique.

For the most part there were five musicians on stage. Sometimes the keyboard player would play a third guitar. Touring member Luke Sutherland made an appearance for a handful of songs, fleshing out the sound more with his violin, or by singing, or playing some secondary drums.

The lights were an integrated part of the experience. There were three neon looking hexagons from the cover of Rave Tapes that pulsated and flickered. Backlights synchronised with the music cast the band members as dramatic silhouettes.

Mogwai songs have very gradual growth. They slowly build up with layers. A steady drumbeat, a repeated riff, another guitar fills the space and the keys take over the high-end. The wash and hum lingers and sweeps through.

Like the songs that gradually build up, the set got better as it progressed. People started to sway and dance as the songs became more interesting. Better recognised songs were received with whistles and cries of delight.

Image: Bradley Garner Photography.

Image: Bradley Garner Photography.

One of the more memorable parts was the set closing song, “Mogwai Fear Satan”. After six minutes of building up the song pulls back to light swells and an undercurrent drum beat. This lull in the song continues for a few minutes, before the band suddenly launches back into a frenzied feedback explosion. Many people jumped back in fright, just to laugh at themselves moments later.

One criticism is that the set was loud. I always wear earplugs at gigs to protect my hearing, but even so, it was excessive. Many people had fingers stuck in their ears, and I heard later that people had left because they couldn’t handle the volume.

Mogwai last came to New Zealand 16 years ago. This was their first time in Wellington. The venue was close to full, but not packed enough to make the place as stifling hot as it has been last few times I’d been there. Tonight was quite mixed, predominantly an older crowd (30+). They played for around 90 minutes, including a two song encore.

The set was loud and varied. The visuals were simple yet dramatic. There were quiet, drawn out sections and explosive, euphoric moments. The use of unconventional instruments made it more interesting.

After most songs guitarist Stuart Braithwaite would step forward to his microphone and meekly offer “Thank you, cheers” in his Scottish accent. On behalf of the audience, right back at you, Stuart.


Joseph James

The setlist

The set list

Live Review: Nas performing Illmatic at James Cabaret, Wellington

Nas Wellington James Cabaret Illmatic Poster


James Cabaret

Sunday 18 January 2015

Last time Nas played in New Zealand he was touring with Damian Marley promoting their collaborative album Distant Relatives. The time before that he opened for Kanye West.

Nasty Nas, widely considered one of the greatest emcees ever, opening for Kanye? Why wasn’t he headlining? I’d suggest it’s because Kanye gets radio play, and Nas doesn’t.

But fans at the Nas show last night knew better and turned out in force to witness the rap legend in the flesh. Nas may not get the mainstream radio play that Kanye does, but he has still more than earned a loyal following. And two sold out shows was enough to prove it.

And the fans were richly rewarded. Not only did they get to see one of their favourite rappers, but they got to see him perform his most acclaimed album. As advertised, Nas played his groundbreaking début album Illmatic from start to finish, to celebrate its 20th anniversary. DJ Green Lantern oversaw the music and provided backing vocals, while Nas tore through the hit-heavy set.

The setup was fairly unimposing. Nas wore a plain camo green tshirt, a discreet necklace and sunglasses. There was a screen at the back of the stage with videos. But the emphasis wasn’t on showy gimmicks, it was on the music.

The songs from Illmatic were firmly imprinted in the minds of everyone in the audience, most of whom were singing along. They best sing along moment was during “NY York State Of Mind” when everyone shouted “I never sleep, because sleep is the cousin of death!” The crowd had showed up to relive that enduring album, and Nas delivered exactly what they wanted, playing it all, followed by more songs from later in his career.

The set was a trip down nostalgia lane. The Illmatic singles all featured, like “The World Is Yours”, “One Love” and “Halftime”. There was a shout out to the late Michael Jackson for allowing his music to be sampled on “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”, as well several other late rappers on “Represent”

The second half of the set was less exciting. Nas gave an impressive cross-section of his career through the ages, but Illmatic was the attraction that had set the benchmark.

Nas clearly loved what he was doing. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ll keep doing it for 20 more, because you guys keep coming back!” he shouted. “I need to keep coming back here more often.”

A number of fans had brought their LP copies of Illmatic to the show and were waving them in the air. “You want me to sign that?” Nas asked, “Help me out and take the plastic off. You got a pen?” After 20 years of touring he still appeared stunned at his fans devotion “A real vinyl record!” he muttered in disbelief as he scrawled his signature on the cover.

My only complaint was that it was extremely hot in the venue. There was no noticeable air conditioning. I was wanting the show to finish half way through the set, just so I could escape the humidity. A sold out gig and a small venue means lots of body heat if going to get generated. Nas himself kept complaining about the heat too, asking the lighting technicians to turn down the onstage lights several times.

No pass outs and no ventilation means no escape from the heat. I wonder if this is a deliberate method of selling more drinks? Apparently it was too hot and crowded at the Run The Jewels/Joey Badass gig the previous week as well, and the gig had been advertised to start far earlier than it actually did, meaning people had been trapped inside with the heat for even longer. If this continues I’ll consider avoiding shows at James Cabaret in the future.

Joseph James.

Live Review: Run the Jewels, Danny Brown & Earl Sweatshirt at James Cabaret, Wellington

Earl Sweatshirt Run The Jewles Danny Brown Wellington James Cabaret

Run the Jewels, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt

James Cabaret, Wellington

Tuesday 28 January 2014

It’s only January, but tonight was promising to be the biggest Hip hop show of the year. The triple bill of Run the Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt was almost too good to be true for hip hop fans, and the hipsters in their bucket hats attended in droves.

Run the Jewels proved to be a good opening act. The crowd were worked into a frenzy as MCs EL-P and Killer Mike tagged between themselves alternating lead duties. I was a bit confused when they talked about their DJ being born in Wellington and being raised by Koala Bears, but all was forgiven when they pulled an especially rowdy fan up onstage and sat him down for “time out” so that security wouldn’t need to deal with him anymore.

Danny Brown was arguably the biggest draw card of the night. Known as the rapper with the funny voice and having been touted as the next big thing by overseas press, Brown delivered on the hype. His music was bass driven and required a lot of chanting from the crowd, an interaction that the audience was happy to oblige. Brown lapped it up, continually poking out his tongue and throwing the goat.

Compared to Brown’s incessant bass driven music, Earl Sweatshirt’s set seemed far more stripped back, especially when he started spitting lyrics a cappella between his other songs. Sweatshirt’s set was a lot less structured than the first two bands and he would get the crowd to vote on if they wanted to hear old or new material. He later admitted that he’d only written about 20 songs, so we’d heard just about all of them anyway.

My personal highlight of the night was when Odd Future collaborator Domo Genesis threw a bucket of fried chicken into the audience and watched the crowd fight over the fried chicken. “Yeah! Rip each other’s throats!” shouted Sweatshirt.

An interesting insight into the world of hip hop. I just hope that they’re not all serious.


Joseph James