BY JEAN WEST
‘Beautiful terrorists,’ that’s how I heard someone describe Mogwai after last night’s Edinburgh International
If that is their modus operandi, the soft-loud journeymen were taking no prisoners, fighting til the end against the dying of the light with the same agony and ecstasy that has held them up through two decades, assaulting the crowd with an unyielding, mesmeric intensity.
The oxymoron was the only way this particular fan could describe the seductive band, whose raw, angry, explosive, brutal, lulling, calm, hymnal and serene emotions, showed up at last night’s gig at the Light on the Shore.
All of this and more as the free, creative expression that has so identified the Glasgow band, formed in 1995, with nine studio albums to their name, including Mogwai Young Team, Atomic, The Hawk Is Howling, and Les Revenants, once more let rip, cascading forth their deafening, distorted infusions.
Rightly ensconced now in the post-rock God pantheon, the five-piece, minus only one original member, faced slipping into mediocrity for a spell.
And then last year saw them back in the lab, like aural scientists, cooking up something vital and uncompromising, with the well-received Every Country’s Sun, returning them to their inspiring best.
But, alchemising old and new, last night, they hit a heady balance, gorging fans with some of the slow building, sky reaching pillars of their well-rehearsed CV, before loading up with more recent material, that played on lulls and silence and then blasted through the sound-barrier with shocking soundscapes and crashing instrumentation.
Two-thirds of the audience were men of a certain age nostalgic for their youth, happy to listen to a dialogue largely without words that hit the pleasure and pain centres of the brain like a South American hallucinogen, lighting up the neuro-chemistry with their largely non-verbal lexicon of strings, synths and drum.
You still hear echoes of New Order and a kraut-rock influence, even Stuart Braithwaite’s stance brought back eighties angst as he took to the microphone for rare vocals in Party in the Dark. John Peel’s young heroes barely spoke to each other, far less the crowd but stormed through the set like flawless machines.
Heard About You with its gentle keyboards and jangley guitars, kicked off proceedings and Coolverine and Old Poisons moved the proceedings forward to a roaring finale that left some audience members facing cochlea implants.
Divine, soaring, ethereal and lengthy meditations were as welcome as the throbbing, pulsing explosive barrage that came later.
Guitars were rotated by technicians sweating as much as the band in this highly charged, slick appointment with the Scottish capital.
I closed my eyes often, nothing visual was necessary to absorb the unique personality of material whose visceral pulse became my pulse as their instruments almost became as vital to them as their own organs.
Like a Buddhist mantra that kept bringing us back to the arena and ourselves there was nowhere to run except into the morphing walls of sound.
Every more captivating layer bound us to the stage.
Expert at live performance and clearly festival lovers themselves having just returned from Primavera, Latitude and Lostkilde, two nights at the biggest arts festival in the world would only serve to consolidate the diverse appeal of an outfit described by Loud and Quiet as ‘a band renewed’.
High on the music they have been making for 20 years now, we can only hope they keep taking the medicine.
Mogwai play once more tonight at Leith Theatre as part of EIF’s Light on the Shore supported by Karyn Joseph.