Incubate Festival in Tilburg Holland
Sept 15th 2012
Playing the last date of their two year world tour, Mogwai are a band at the peak of their powers. They have honed down that quiet/loud thing to perfection and their command of dynamics is quite stunning.
When the quiet guitar line creeps in at the beginning of Helicon you get that ancient tingle running down your spine, the song is classic Mogwai, a total trip that envelops you in its own world, it’s own atmosphere. Music that doesn’t need drugs to make you feel like you are listening to music that needs drugs…
There is so much going on here that it should all fall in on itself but somehow the band’s intelligence makes sense of the all the flowing music and guitar lines. Mogwai are so far away from Trad Rock that they are sound tracking their own universe. There’s plenty of pretenders in this scene, plenty of earnest young men who come to destroy rock n roll but end up making music so dull that it is easily forgotten.
Mogwai bypass this on so many levels. Firstly and most importantly their music really pulls you in, the ebb and the flow and the ooze of the sound, the way they drop down to those spooked, near silence sections and hold the tension endlessly, agonizingly as you wait for the big explosion into the maelstrom of sound that ends the song.
The quiet sections are where the band are at their very best. It’s not simple being quiet in a rock band and it takes enormous discipline to not play and to be in full control of the electricity of the moment. And yet it’s here in these quiet bits where the guitars are still getting played as the band harness the raw power of the moment and create something that affects you far more without beating you over the head with the high octane assault of rock action.
The music is powerful and churning as the band kick into the noise sections, the guitars weave in and out of eachother and you are swept up in the stunning finales of the songs. The live sound is perfect, whoever is doing the sound is gold medal status, picking out all the contrasting guitar lines and threading them together.
Mogwai don’t do rock n roll in the traditional sense. There is no rabble rounding, no rock n rol clothes, no rock n roll shapes and yet this doesn’t make them boring. They transcend the pose of rock n roll but they also fully understand rock n roll. They are not dry academic snobs dislocating rock n roll, they still manage to harness its emotional raw power and it’s cry for freedom but instead of two minute rushes they do it in 15 minutes instrumentals. They don’t need the strutting, preening singer, they have found their own way to communicate and they do this, mostly, without words which is even more impressive.
Ever since the mid nineties Mogwai have been operating like this- long instrumentals, droning guitars, loud and quiet bits…it’s a long way from the alternative mainstream but they are really popular. They have bypassed all the stupid rules and gone off on their own headstrong route with plenty of piss taking of the pious and the stuck up whilst they are at it. There is so much joy in their creativity that you can feel it.It may be kicking out the jams but everyone is invited and they all turn up ready to have their minds blown.
The band have released seven albums of these instrumentals, their current set, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, is quite possibly their best and their live shows are a celebration of this added power. Mogwai somehow combine a spectacular intensity with a razor sharp sense of humour. It’s apparent in their operation and in those Blur Are Site t shirts from a few years ago and the odd smirk and giggle on stage that never takes anything away from the emotional rush of their music.
The set tonight is an object lesson in tension and dynamics but with an added melodic touch that is often overlooked, maybe because the band don’t bother with vocals in nearly all of their songs. There is no rock star action going on, a few scruffy blokes hunched over their guitars making the most beautiful sounds imaginable and creating an hypnotic world of their own.
Once you are locked into their world you never want to leave, the lazy may complain that they are Prog rock because of the long songs but Mogwai are far, far closer to the spirit of punk rock if these kind of tribal divisions really matter. They have the tough edge of punk rock, no note is wasted, there is zero self indulgence going on,this is a band at the top of their powers understanding the breathtaking scope of just what an electric guitar can do and the venerable old instruments ability to coax out all kinds of emotions from the electrical mist.
Like watching a great film, you enter a world and the end of the set is quite a shock as you crash bang back into reality.
A stunning gig from a genius band.