As his off-stage persona and interview candour suggests, Stuart Braithwaite doesn’t waste his words – indeed, tonight under the roof of the Olympia Theatre, he will barely acknowledge his band’s 20th anniversary and instead offer sincere thanks after almost every song. He is as economical with his words as Mogwai are with their time. Though one punter in State’s earshot expresses mild outrage when Braithwaite teases the curtain call after sixty minutes, it would be churlish to feel short-changed after a busy hour peppered with select cuts from all but one of their eight studio albums. Hell, Braithwaite even briefly morphs into a Scottish Brian Molko for a handful of minutes as he steps up to the mic on the Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1. EP’s blistering ‘Teenage Exorcists’.
Mostly, however, Mogwai shut up and play the ‘hits’. ‘Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home’ opens, snaking its way around the room with hypnotic guile, the calm before an eventual storm that will register as the loudest thing these ears have ever heard live, and they were present when Portishead shook the earth in Stradbally with ‘Machine Gun’ last year. The peak of this noise comes in the middle of ‘Remurdered’ as the giallo soundtrack-worthy synth notes swell so high you wonder if something will give.
Everything stays in place. Tonight’s path is a steady, perfectly-plotted ascent. ‘Killing All The Flies’, ‘Friend Of The Night’ and ‘Christmas Steps’ guide the way, a sense of portent eventually giving way to deep guitar stabs. Braithwaite, as ever onstage, is fascinating to watch, swaying and hunching like he’s been taken over by some greater force of will. He’s good with the odd joke, too. “That’s the first night we’ve ever played three fast songs in a row,” he notes after a hellacious run of ‘San Pedro’, ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’ and the aforementioned ‘Teenage Exorcists’. “Apologies, it will never happen again,” he dryly offers. Before all that, a breathtaking ‘Auto Rock’ threatens to reach out and touch the sky itself.
It’s a strange crowd tonight, alternatively lairy with the requisite whoops, hollers, the odd heckle and the dreaded refrain of ‘one more tune’ yet respectful to the point of solemnity during key hushed moments. Once or twice, the roars from those gathered are as loud as the cacophony emanating from up above. There’s a genuine feeling of awe as the night progresses, the belief that Mogwai can achieve literally anything. Their sonic attack is an unflinching machine. When you think it won’t, it will. When you think it can’t, it does. Each new effort scales a higher peak than the one before it.
‘We’re No Here’ prefaces an encore of ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ and the mesmerising ‘My Father, My King’, a truly epic sign-off that uses repetition as a brutal weapon, swinging and pounding relentlessly, the perfect soundtrack for an imagined scrap between Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Yndi Halda. As State exits onto the street, the closing crunch of distortion and feedback follows, the bright lights, speeding traffic and voices in the distance unable to steal attention. Fitting. Mogwai’s wall of glorious, expertly-crafted noise has expanded admirably over the past two decades. Long may it stand tall.
Mogwai photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko