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