Mogwai at the Belly Up! Eric Nielsen 5.17.9
All hail the hessians. San Diego lives. Existential soul filled the sold out room on Friday night, and my friend tweeted about feeling alive again. There were no soulful guitar solos, no heartfelt lamenting vocal wails. Instead it was a cold, positive absurdity. It ranged from the pop of Air vocoders of Killing all the Flies to the barn burning set closer that locked in and rocked the same riff for what was an eternally blissful forever of lights, action, camera, descent into a dark UK hole.
Entranced by the lights and the massive volume jumps and dumps, we all closed our eyes (not much visual action by the band members, but plenty of lights). Folk Death '95 lulled listeners into loaded delight before the ever present foot stomp, volume pedal jump made famous in SD when we were the next Seattle. The big experience of Mogwai are these rushes of existential light brought about, not by the usual ushers of soul, but by a palette of sound delivering a slow build of repetition that the whole room felt build and could time the fucking climax all together.
Like a Massive Attack exponential, from across the pond came waves of sound and across the crowd came winds of volume blowing our hair in a Hollywood photo shop kind of way. The guitars and keyboards barely were discernable as the number of pedals at each station numbered past the teens. The guitar was very reminiscent of Ilya with the massive delay, fast strumming. The keyboard and bass held most of the clarity like the beginning of Auto Rock and was soon awash with a crashing ocean of sound like the waves and the entrance to the Who's Love Reign O'er Me.
Everything was immaculate and built upon itself with clarity and thoughtfulness. The cold soul thought and that was imperative to its success. There was no big hair, the closest thing to a prop was a baseball cap. It was tshirts and Glasgow working folk playing I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead. Slowly grinding that delayed guitar sound into the for sure it's coming volume ramp, strobe lit, eyes closed, loaded sway that filled all of the empty spaces in your mind and disallowed any judgment or thinking, just experiencing. That existential soul was calculated as strict as The Stranger, as sure as Sartre and fed classically to an audience starved and then satiated. It was one of the best shows of the year and I've seen some mind benders to this date.
All of Mogwai wore an earpiece and there was no movement from the perfection of timing. Just what the opening band, Dead Meadows lacked. Their set was full of uninspired singing and playing, crashing terribly when the one groove they got close to hitting was constantly interrupted by the bass player needing to get a sip of his cocktail, or his metallic can of Budweiser while hamming up a simple line that barely held on. His only virtue being the tone he got out of his Rickenbacker through an Orange Cabinet.
Siddartha's river of sound provided by the heros of the night, Mogwai playing heavy fare from Mr Beast and their newest The Hawk is Howling gave all of us a feeling of intimate connection. Nowhere was there a call for a long lost song (like the Magnolia Electric Co set on Sunday night) as it was all provided for. It was nearly like a two set show because the band knew they were coming out for an encore. The roadies all came out and tuned their guitars after they said goodnight. No one was leaving.
Mogwai's last song of the set ended with a perennial noise fest by the guitar player, inspired by Haino, looked upon by an adoring audience of pure noise, straight layered, punctuated by the twists of an analog reverb pedal, layered into one of the many computers onstage. It blew our chakras open, bent head, knocking eardrums together in the middle of our heads, and we stayed! The Belly Up crowd stayed and lapped it up like thirsty dogs. I was one of them.