MANHATTAN, NY—While making our way towards Webster Hall to see Mogwai play, my girlfriend and I had plenty of thoughts in mind. My head was flooded with fears of what the mix would be like, and a setlist that I wanted to hear them play. We arrived a bit early and got inside the venue to eagerly prepare for what had been long awaited.
The opener was entertaining but quite frankly, we were primarily there to see Mogwai. Immediately I noticed that there were six different amps on the stage, which seemed peculiar to me considering there are only five members in the band. While eavesdropping on a girl standing next to me I heard her say, “I have no clue what to expect, because when I listen to this music, I do it alone.”
Mogwai walked onto the stage and began their set with the first track off of their latest full-length album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. This album has received negativity amongst most of my friends and has left me on the fence, however, seeing it played live totally smashed away all of my doubts. There were a lot of songs in the set that I was unfamiliar with yet strangely came out to be my favorite parts of the show. Whenever there was a section that was a bit heavier, they executed it with power while the ambient parts were played quietly—as they were meant to sound. Prior to the show I had promised myself that I would take the time to consciously shut my eyes for at least one song, in order to feel its worth. I managed to fulfill that promise to myself and as I closed to my eyes, I seized all mobility. Every time I dared to think about moving, the music destroyed the idea and kept me motionless with a silence through its clashing loud sounds. The characteristics of the band working together as musicians were completely flawless and effortless seeming. Not a single moment passed where it wasn’t apparent that these guys knew exactly what they wanted to do on stage and that it was all for themselves, as a form of artistic expression. A rather fickle conclusion was what got me the hardest.
An expected encore occurred and during the last song, I was granted the opportunity to experience an endeavor of emotions that no band has ever been able to produce in me thus far. The track started out slow and peaceful until out of nowhere, the whole band exploded together with raw power that literally threw my head back. My chest felt every vibration until the song took a turn into something less vicious. Once everything was turned down, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite played a technique that I have never seen before. He softly rubbed the tip of his finger along the strings of his instrument, creating a loud, high-pitch sound. Whilst watching this creation happen before me, I could slowly feel my eyelids begin to fill with tears. It came to a point where the majority of the band left the stage and only the two guitarists kept playing together to end the set. I looked around to see that the entire venue was silent and black, except for the two beams of light shining down on each musician. Eventually, Braithwaite walked away, leaving the continuous play of his looping effects pedal, as second guitarist, John Cummings, got down on his knees and experimented with different noises. After Cummings left the stage, the room filled with feedback until the guitar tech came out to descend all of the sentiments.
We left Webster Hall later that night speechless. Mogwai was truly one of the most amazing performances I have ever seen. My girlfriend had even told me once upon a time that their music is so beautiful that it is the sound she wishes to hear right before she dies. The intimacy of that show did a justice to that statement. It’s amazing to know that these Scottish artists have been making music like this since the early ’90s. As their music continues to animate itself through each decade it exists in, it goes without saying that Mogwai will never die.