Watching Mogwai at the Corona Theatre was like watching a city being burnt to the ground. Their sound was as destructive as fire. Their melodies were as mesmerizing as flames dancing in the dark. The atmosphere was intense, melancholy, and if you stood too close, you felt the heat sink into your skin.
The band formed in the mid-90s in Scotland and has since racked up a serious discography. Their releases could be found on the Mogwai website. Perhaps it is because I do not know of any bands to compare Mogwai with but, it feels as if to do so would be undermining. They stand strong on their own and definitely merit multiple listens to truly uncover their vibe. Even at that, it is tough to put a finger on their essence, which is awesome. Not everything needs to be so easily broken down and catagorized. Unfortunately, I had not heard of them prior to the show and man was I in for a wild encounter.
Opening up the night was Los Angeles-based solo artist, Xander Harris. He had a serious set up of what seemed to be a triple-rack of keyboards hooked up to some effect pedals, among other gadgets… and A LOT of buttons and nobs. He piloted his futuristic spaceship into a world of ambient electronic music. His set could have easily been the soundtrack to a dark and mysterious sci-fi movie like Blade Runner 2049. Although his efforts didn’t tickle my musical pickle, he definitely set the stage for the cosmic sounds to come.
The venue finished filling up right before the main act took the stage. The sound techs gave the instruments a quick strum to make sure everything was in order. Those short bursts of sound were indications of the overwhelming sound to come from the Marshall, Orange, and Fender amps that lined the stage. Mogwai soon opened their set with the song “Hunted by a Freak” from their 2003 album Happy Songs for Happy People. The crowd seemed instantly captivated by the instrumental vibe and turned into putty in the hands of the band. Next was “20 Size,” a song off their 2017 release Every Country’s Sun. They played more than half of the tracklist of that record including songs like “Coolverine” and “Party in the Dark.” The music video for the latter is a good visual for the Mogwai experience. The rest of set was mainly composed of long, ambient instrumental pieces which was great because these musicians knew how to ride the vibes and build an atmosphere.
One thing that impressed me was just how often everyone on stage would switch instruments and roles throughout the show. Founding member Stuart Braithwaite (guitar/vocals) and touring drummer Cat Myers were the only two members that kept consistent positions during the show. The rest of the band, consisting of co-founder Dominic Aitchison, long-time member Barry Burns, and touring member Alex Mackay, all split the duties of keyboards, bass, and guitar. It was awesome to see such versatile musicians deliver impeccable music, regardless of who was playing what. Sometimes instrument changes would come mid-song while other times, everybody would swap places at once in between songs. Every possible combination was used to optimize the assets on stage and, with the help of their techs, the unit was able to execute a well-planned setlist.
My favourite song came mid-show. “Rano Pano” is as melodic as it is heavy. Off of the 2011 album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the song builds on one dissonant and powerful melody delivered in a super fuzzed-out mantra. I was lucky enough to have gotten my hands on a setlist after the show because I would not have been able to sleep until I found out what this song was called. Much like the rest of their set, Mogwai held dissonant melodies, absurdly loud fuzz, and mellow vibes in perfect harmony. They were as ancient as they were futuristic and took everyone for a ride.
The night wound down to two encore songs. For the last song, I made my way down to the floor. The masterpiece called “Mogwai Fear Satan” was one of their longest songs and it was saved for the end. The first thing that struck me once I was standing feet away from the stage was the sound. You could feel the music sink into your skin. It was easily one of the loudest concerts I’ve been to in a while. Their closer lasted well over ten minutes, and during that time they sculpted a beautiful atmosphere, majestically riding the waves of the song. At one point, they worked everything down to a quiet murmur and built some anticipation before absolutely crushing everyone in the crowd with a cosmic punch in the gut. It was the scariest moment I’d ever experienced during a show. From zero to infinity, the music and lights all spiked at once, like a jump-scare in a horror movie. Again, putty in their hands.
Mogwai transported everyone somewhere different that night and left us all shook up and wondering how to describe what we had just experienced. Find this band, listen to their music, go see them live, and experience the trip yourselves. You don’t catch stuff like this very often.
Written by Ben Cornel
*edited by Danielle Kenedy