Scottish group Mogwai spent Wednesday night (and the first hour of Thursday morning) fighting its better instincts at the 9:30 Club.There’s nothing wrong with a band “going instrumental” as a stylistic career choice, but it should be sure not to give off the impression that it thinks it has somehow “evolved” past vocals. Nor are there categorical objections to be had against groups that would rather simmer than boil, though they should be careful they do it differently each time. In this area, Mogwai shines, and, with the lighting as heavy as it was week, that’s definitely what they want to do—shine. More on that later, but here we praise Mogwai’s variety.
No two numbers from this Glaswegian quintet’s crunchy, meandering late-night set sounded exactly alike. Their largely lyric-free songs range from the crushed diamonds of the Cure and Sonic Youth to the rain-and-sand patter of granola jam bands like the Duo, String Cheese (shudder), and especially Tortoise. Mogwai takes its name from the creatures in “Gremlins,” which in turn were named after the Chinese word for “evil spirit.” Sounds like a battle cry, doesn’t it? Scream it really loudly (“mog-WHYYYYYYY!!”) and you can get the sense of exactly what their music doesn’t sound like.
“How to Be a Werewolf” and “Remurdered” are the kind of ditties so expansive and swelling, you wanna curl up in them, or perhaps make them the site of your next camping trip. What makes Mogwai worthwhile is that, while they wander and climax in rather predictable beats, they do find new ways to climb that mountain.
It’s a shame the production more than once overwhelmed the music. People were spotted shielding their eyes around the ninth or tenth time the house was flooded with lights to correspond with a crescendo. Was the style trying to match the substance? Possibly, but Explosions in the Sky this is not. In the future, the band’s producers might be mogwise to tone down the sparklies and let the music “speak” for itself.
The best song of the night came third with “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” a quivering, quacking nest of violin and tremulous vocals. “What would you do, if you saw spaceships?” we were asked. If they sounded like this, we’d probably be happy about it.
Words by Tristan Lejeune, Photos by Farrah Skeiky, from a previous performance