Space Odyssey: Mogwai Live At The Brudenell Social Club

At a tiny one-off gig at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, Mogwai create thunder and eruption - and something beautiful in the spaces in between.

A reverential “sshh” ripples through the audience as Mogwai strap up and prepare. But any sense of enforced quiet is soon obliterated as the group wind up ‘Rano Pano’ from 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. The crunch of the guitars is a furnace-blast force that fills the room with a wave of sound akin to opening a plane door mid-flight, which is about right because Mogwai are playing in a room that holds not many more people than your average Ryanair flight would.

To celebrate the opening of a new extension and gig room in the greatly adored Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, Mogwai are playing a one-off show to just a few hundred people. It’s stark contrast to the 11,000 capacity SSE venue they’ll be playing in Glasgow later this year.

The dying sputters of electronics on ‘Pano Rano’ hiss, bubble and gurgle over the thick droning hum of the guitars, and it melds into ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’. The sparse and quietly stirring piano lines feel almost elegiac in their looping construct but you know there’s something lurking around the corner. The quiet eruption of guitars then takes place, and the song merges into a rolling ball of unfurling keys, tightly wound flickers of guitar, ribcage-shaking bass and thundering drums. The intricacies of their playing allows peaks, variations and explorations to form within the framework – like a song playing within a song playing within a song.

Those who recount Mogwai shows often compare battle scars, offering tales of hearing loss, broken minds and crushed bodies that ache from the throb of the mighty Mogwai force. But the band’s palate is so much richer and more varied than the simple dynamics of loud and quiet, and this really begins to manifest itself tonight as the group weave through two decades’ worth of material.

The pop-flavoured recent single ‘Party In The Dark’ gives way to a set highlight in ‘Coolverine’, the opener from new album Every Country’s Sun. The scattered electronics, ambient whirrs and rolling basslines that open the track immediately hang in the air, floating with a sonic trail. The slow bass notes reverberate to quaking levels, the slight scratches and stretches of the guitar strings from pressed fingers are amplified and prolonged and the thwack of the drums cuts with a taut dryness. The intimacy of the venue makes the sense of power and force even greater and more condensed.

It’s these moments that feel the most potent. Mogwai are adept at exploring the push-pull dynamics of music, but the space they create within that tension is often where the most interesting creations occur. ‘Coolverine’ is a gloriously spacious song, one in which the room created is enough to stride around in, like some cosmic voyager endlessly bouncing and hopping. They also know when to cut such voyages short and regain control; when all the component parts of the song re-connect, it feels as precise and pristine as it does loose and exploratory.

By the time Mogwai have blitzed through the fog-coated electrical storm that is ‘Helicon 1’ and arrive at the rousing and shuddering electronic stomp of ‘Remurdered’ – which sounds utterly thunderous in the tiny room – you realise that they really are a group that operate on an antithetical level to which many perceive them to be. Halfway through their set doesn’t feel like a two-decade long voyage across a singular post-rock landscape; it’s more a winding traverse through electronica, pop, ambient, drone and their own blend of idiosyncratic guitar thunder.

By 2017 you now know exactly what to expect from every note, every pause, every frazzled guitar hiss and every volcanic eruption that takes place within 1997’s ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ but that does not stop it from being one of the most physically arresting and endorphin-guzzling pieces of music they have ever made. In the proximity of this very small venue – we’re close enough to see the droplets of sweat hang and glisten in the bassist’s beard and hear the squeak of the tuning forks being turned on the guitars between songs – the track is utterly pulverising. The tectonic shifts of guitar move upwards in crunching, driving inclines as though they are forever changing gear, hurtling forward with infinite possibilities. After the customary breakdown, as the song simmers down close to silence (although even with only a few hundred, presumably diehard, fans in the room some still manage to talk), the electricity jolt of guitars that brings it back to life is intense enough to leave you gasping for breath. It’s like rising from a prolonged period underwater.

They close on the frenzied assault of ‘Old Poisons’, a wild, unraveling and unrelentingly clattering end that was only ever due to close the main set – in a ‘set fire to the stage and temporarily walk away’ manner – but after a short break as things are put back in place for an encore, Braithwaite comes out to inform the crowd that the drummer, Martin Bulloch, has hurt his leg and can no longer play. “And we’re not doing a fucking acoustic number,” he says, while apologising. Despite being a few songs short of a full set (a sneak at the set list says they would have also played ‘Don’t Believe The Fife’ ‘Auto Rock’ and ‘We’re No Here’) they still leave an unforgettable opening mark on the new venue.

Twenty years on from their debut album, Mogwai feel as propulsive now as they did then. A group with eyes locked firmly on the horizon, consistently eschewing the conventions of a genre they essentially built the foundations of. Tonight they are a visceral reminder that space and silence can be just as powerful as the screeching thrash of noise.

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