While the slapping of stylistic labels onto music may irk bands, such terms are often warranted, accurate, and most importantly, not necessarily negative. Scottish rockers Mogwai hold a laundry list of said labels: Progressive, instrumental, indie, ambient, punk, post-rockers. The band upheld each and every one these styles Tuesday night at Warehouse Live.
"Good evening, it's good to be here," announced guitarist/singer Stuart Braithwaite, to a crowd that would have packed Warehouse's Studio, but only half-filled its Ballroom. Braithwaite's greeting would be among the only words spoken throughout Mogwai's hour-plus set.
The band, touring in support of its seventh album, this year's amusingly named Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Album opener "White Noise" also opened the band's live set, a vast screen of illuminated constellation-like orbs, shapes, and stars behind them.
For a band known for its guitar prowess, it was refreshing and surprising to hear such prominent piano accompaniment. It shone tastefully alongside otherwise burly guitar parts, even more prominently so than on Mogwai's records. Stylistically speaking (ahem), they're Fugazi meets Explosions In the Sky.
The set drew liberally from Hardcore, with songs like "Death Rays," "San Pedro," and "How to Be a Werewolf," but the crowd audibly approved of the band's revisits to 1999's Come on Die Young with "Cody" (among the only two songs Tuesday that contained vocals), as well as 2008's The Hawk Is Howling's "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead."
Mogwai added to their already atmospheric instrumentals with additionally atmospheric scenic backdrops. Skylines, highways, mountains, and lakes danced along the screen as they played; it was a little detail that stood out, as the band didn't exactly deliver much stage presence otherwise - just nonstop, almost exclusively instrumental rock.
Braithwaite, a surprisingly soft-spoken Scottish gentleman, sweetly thanked the crowd many times, but only via his repeated "Cheers, thanks!"
The band wove through a set list that spanned their 14-year discography, including Rock Action's "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" and Happy Songs For Happy People's "Hunted By a Freak."
But as the set progressed, it became harder not only to differentiate song from song, but to appreciate them individually, as they eventually bled together, equaling one too-long song. Unfortunately, songs that may have stood out on their own grew lackluster and overlooked with no variety to revitalize them.
Alas, the scant crowd remained awed and attentive all night, many fervidly striking imaginary drum-kits and spacily strumming air guitars. Such observation shouldn't be surprising: Mogwai is a Musician's Band. While their set didn't exactly hold Aftermath's interest, we could respect it as musicians and appreciators of musical talent. Of course, even expert musicianship tires with no added variety.
Nevertheless, it seems Mogwai are purely a talented bunch of Scots who play music for music's sake - they must know their style won't reach everyone, whether that be on an ambient, progressive, instrumental, or what-have-you basis - but they are a truly skilled band who seem to love the music they create.
Personal Bias: I've been accused of placing too much emphasis on songwriters' lyrical quality... you do the math.
The Crowd: Respectful, attentive fans. Lots of bearded dudes.
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Overheard in the Crowd: "Glasgow in the house!!"; repeated loud requests for "Mogwai Fear Satan."
Random Notebook Dump: "Bright light! Bright light!"