It is 1998. Rifling through the racks in Mike Lloyd’s record shop in Wolverhampton’s central square a cover catches my eye, a picture of six friends in a field. Around them snow flies in bleak lines but they are all smiling. On the other side is an out of focus shot of the group walking across a bridge into the woods. My first and only Mogwai vinyl.
That Chemikal Underground three tracker was followed by ‘Come On Die Young’, the ‘Stanley Kubrick’ EP and ‘Rock Action’, but I dropped the ball and didn’t pick it up until their last tour in 2010. Seeing them live at the Tyne Theatre four days ago was a rare treat. Last album ‘Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will’ is as nuanced and subtle, corrosive and howling mad, as anything in the Glaswegian’s post-rocker’s catalogue, but you need to see a live show. It makes your eyes vibrate.
Riffs build from whispered feedback and austere piano lines into a melancholic euphoria that fills the hall. You feel it in your bones. Squalls of distortion are shot through with harmony, a blizzard with screams of joy floating over the howling wind. Snapshot of six friends in winter. Warm emotions and cold hands.
Post-rock, art-rock, math-rock, just rock, whatever you want to call it Mogwai has a big heart. Tracks from the new album ‘Rave Tapes’ showcase a lot more synth and 70s-style electronics. ‘Remurdered’ sounds like a John Carpenter soundtrack. ‘The Lord Is Out of Control’ could be Air in their prime with its melodic vocoder. There are elements of progressive rock, precise and controlled crescendos that suggest a classical influence, punk and metal.
Second track on the night was ‘Rano Pano’ from ‘Hardcore’, one of the best singalong riffs ever. There were moments throughout, especially when Barry Burns steps down from the keyboard to take third guitar alongside Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings, where tracks built to an ecstatic peak. Sandblasted noise at volume, strobes flickering. Mogwai construct something that soars.
‘Rave Tapes’ was released on 20 January. You don’t need it to know that Mogwai have built a lasting legacy on their influences – Slint, My Bloody Valentine – but the evidence suggests it may be one of their best. See them live, then you’ll know.