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ERRATIC VOLUMES
:: Mogwai ::
18 October 2003 / Academy 1 / Manchester
By Dave Himelfield

In previous live excursions volume was something of a dominating factor. Washes of piercing treble noise and disagreeable frequencies could make a Mogwai gig downright unpleasant or wonderfully sadomasochistic, depending on where you were sitting, geographically and mentally. I was really hoping to leave feeling mildly nauseous with ears ringing like an aftermath of stereo feedback. No such luck tonight. Some years ago Mogwai not only made militant statements with such abuses of sound but also set out a radical new agenda of what guitar music could do. Not since Miles Davis had a largely instrumental band been able to garner so much relevance, meaning and loving attention.

Today while their sound could never be accused of standing still, it ceases to have quite the same impact that “10 Rapid” or “Young Team” once did and frankly, still seems to maintain. However, tonight one can still see why the trailblazers still hold a comfortable lead. While they may not quite be the musical insurrectionists of the late 90s, they quite justifiably look like the most important band in the world right now. There’s a kind of poised aloofness that seems to fit in the main part rather than antagonise. As there isn’t much to watch, besides the “Do you have any idea of how important that note that I’m playing is?” smugness of Stuart, closing your eyes and just letting the thickest imaginable waves of sonic chocolate mouse gently teeter your body makes the most sense. About of half of the audience offer reverence in an almost religious manner and it isn’t hard to comprehend because Mogwai are still more than capable of unique sounds that captivate and embrace so much without impediment. Half of the beauty still lies in the music’s open-ended and abstract nature that forms a soundtrack to your post-modern, uncertain life. Admittedly there is some ovine, automatic worship this evening. With the slightest touch of a distortion pedal and the whole Academy is in uproar and one can’t help but imagine the same response had the band just sang “Humpty Dumpty” and then walked off.

“All Paths Lead to Helicon” is as epically gorgeous as ever, if a little underpowered due to the lack of decibels. Similarly, dynamics seems somewhat understated. While Mogwai would previously use erratic volume extremes to shock tonight it seems only slightly above par for the course. Only the whisper to full on explosion of “Mogwai Fear Satan” manages to unsettle. While Mogwai may not strike quite as hard as they once did, they attack the essential organs with no less accuracy. To repeat the phenomenon of the late 90s would be truly freakish and perhaps a little unrealistic.


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