It seems as if Mogwai have been around forever and a day. I saw them once, back in 2001, and i was not exactly overjoyed with that performance. Since then, i have kind of cooled on Mogwai. They have released several albums that i have not heard, and played Atlanta a few times. And then they decided to come back to The Variety Playhouse, a venue that i have grown to enjoy tremendously this year as i have decided to stop faking being a "night person". (Shows at the Variety end by midnight, you see. An almost reasonable hour….) This was enough to make me brave going to see Mogwai again. I am glad that i did.
Opening tonight's show was Fuck Buttons. I have previously discussed my lack of being impressed with their record Street Horrrsing. Well, tonight they pretty much played Street Horrrsing, from beginning to end, all 46 or so minutes of it. No, really -- that was their set. They even played the songs in the same order as they are on the record.
In their defense, the music is more interesting played live, and loud. The two musicians stood at a table of electronics and bounced up and down as if they thought that they were laying down some of the funkiest beats on the planet. No one else in the entire venue danced in any way at all.
The vocals made a lot more sense when seen live. For example, track 2, 2 Ribs Out, features the Asian-looking member of the band howling into the mic while he bounces as high as he can. At this point, Tracers turned to me and mouthed "Howler monkeys?" over the noise, which seemed to be the only appropriate response. The other vocals, the barely heard yelling, are made by the other band member holding the microphone in his mouth, so that his hands are free for whatever vital knob-twisting has to be done while he is singing. It looked very unsanitary, but i understood why the vocals were intensely distorted.
Fuck Buttons in action, such as it is.
Anyway, knowing the track listing, when the really annoying Race You To My Bedroom/ Spirit Rise started, i headed out into the lobby to grab a soda. I was able to completely miss the three or four minutes of unfocused noise, and got back in time to hear the part of that tune i had never heard before, which, oddly enough, sounded like the rest of their work.
So they played their entire 46-minute record. As they walked off, Inspector Jason's buddy Stuart exclaimed loudly, "I thought that would never end!" That pretty much sums it up for me too. I still hold that Fuck Buttons have about 5 minutes worth of interesting material that they stretch out for far too long. Oh well.
Next their came a rather longish intermission, as The Variety Playhouse filled up. Then something very odd happened. Henry Owens, the guy who runs local magazine Chunklet, came out and pretended to be a German who was on tour with Mogwai. And then he told jokes in a very bad fake German accent. Sample joke: "Why did Fuck Buttons cross the road? Who cares, just slam on the gas and hit them already!" (Okay, that was actually his best joke…) He sort of introduced Mogwai as well, and uttered insults to the many Mogwai descended bands in the world these days. Okay, whatever. You would think that Mogwai would be pleased that they actually have had an influence on the development of music, but apparently not. (They are probably just annoyed that Explosions in the Sky has been releasing more interesting records than they have been lately…)
Anyway, after that, Mogwai played. Let me present the setlist that was compiled by people geekier than i, and then i will discuss it briefly.
Friend of the Night
Thank You Space Expert
Hunted by a Freak
I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School
We're No Here
Let's tally that up, shall we? Five of the songs are new, as is to be expected. But of the remaining nine songs, five of them are from the very beginning of Mogwai's career! Three tunes from Ten Rapid and two from Young Team, but only two from Mr. Beast, the album prior to this one, one song from the record before that, none from Rock Action, and only one from Come On Die Young? It seems to me as if even Mogwai are aware that their better stuff is in the past, hence this retro setlist.
Mogwai enjoy revelling in their past, but still cannot be fed after midnight.
Not that i am complaining. (Well, okay, just one small complaint. I love Come On Die Young, but Christmas Steps over Helps Both Ways or Kappa or Ex-Cowboy??? Come on!) Hearing those early tunes was great, and i think that Mogwai did a good job with the pacing of this set. Piano numbers and guitar-driven tunes were interspersed nicely, and i have to admit that a lot of the newer tunes, especially the slower piano-ish numbers, came across as very lovely.
I think it also helped that Mogwai have stopped trying to simply be the loudest band in the world. The last time i saw them, i had to wear earplugs, and my ears still rang for days. Tonight, earplugs weren't even really necessary, and the sound balance was perfect. The encore seemed to get a bit "unnecessarily noise-jam"-ish, but that is kind of expected actually. Otherwise i thought that Mogwai played a very competent set. I enjoyed them a lot more tonight than i did in 2001, and i am so curious about these new tunes that i might even track down the new record.
Mogwai dissolve into blue light.
(Cool effect made by cheapo Variety Playhouse approved camera,
plus being back in the crowd,
plus overpowering blue stage lights.)
My overall verdict is this: Mogwai are a great live band, so if you have the chance to see them, do so.