With this year’s Every Country’s Sun, Mogwai’s quietly (or not so quietly, depending on the song) put out seventeen records, and the first one (well, non-soundtrack recording) with a fairly significant lineup change. In an amicable split, c0-founding member and guitarist John Cummings decided that being in the band wasn’t his thing anymore, but despite the rock-solidly stable lineup over the last 15 years, the band has always been more about the whole than the individual components. The band’s obviously pretty happy with the new record, and with good reason- while “Party In The Dark” is unexpectedly upbeat and dare I say electro-poppy, songs like “Coolverine,” “Don’t Believe The Fife” and “Old Poisons” show the snarl and ferocity that’s a trademark of the band’s sound. (“Party” would actually be played twice, as sound problems plagued the first rendition, and after a short break the issue was resolved and the band gave it a proper go.)
Though Cummings is gone, there’s not a hole in the sonic slab where another guitar should be; de facto leader Stuart Braithwaite still plays his trusty Telecaster and Les Paul in a manner that’s unmistakably his own, and the touring lineup’s been augmented by Alex Mackay, who split time between guitar or playing synths across from Barry Burns. Drummer Martin Bulloch was a scratch for this tour, but Honeyblood’s Cat Meyers was a more than adequate replacement, preserving Bulloch’s precise touch when needed and bringing a forceful approach to serve the song. Two songs in particular really showcased what Mogwai is all about (and in a surprise twist, neither are encore closer/sonic holocaust “Mogwai Fear Satan”)- “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead,” cheekily pinched from the 1981 Rolling Stone cover, has one of the best buildups to any song I can think of, a slow, inexorable march towards sonic bliss that breaks wide open when the keyboard line kicks in at the two-thirds part and Braithwaite conjures clouds of noise over the top. A separate but equal side of the band came via the 2001 “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong,” with Burns’ delicate vocodor vocals floating over Meyers’ insistent snare pattern. Nothing harsh at all about this one, just a beautiful song that opens like a slowly unfolding sunrise.
Opener Xander Harris has worked with Mogwai in the past and he continues with the band’s tendency to select solo electronic performers as support. The Texas-based musician played a set that straddled the line between John Carpenter soundtrack creepiness and infectious dance grooves, slowly but surely winning new converts in the process. As with Mogwai, there was an unintended break during the set, but this was caused by the constraints of being a one man crew; between driving, setting up and the water/coffee/water/beer/water intake, Harris had to quickly excuse himself for an urgent but brief nature call before returning to finish his set.
Photos of both acts:
Created with flickr slideshow.