It’s been ten years between drinks for Mogwai and I. The last time I saw them they destroyed the Metro theatre on the back of the Happy Songs for Happy People album. That LP was in high rotation at my house, where sleep deprivation and drug madness rendered it the perfect soundtrack for bleary third days bordering on schizophrenia. In the intervening years their star has risen and tonight sees them striding into the hallowed halls of the Sydney Opera House for what promised to be an epic sensory experience.
A helpful sign adorning the entrances warns patrons that ‘Tonight’s performance features strobe, haze and extreme volume’. We wave away the guy handing out earplugs.
“We’re Mogwai fae Glasgow”
Opening with ‘I Heard About You Last Night’ off recent LP Rave Tapes, the sound is pristine and the song sets the stately pace for most of what is to follow. Motoric yet meandering, strikingly beautiful but full of tension. Mogwai were made for this kind of venue and you can tell they’re relishing the opportunity. The guitars and keys are prominent - the snare drum cutting through the space with a ridiculous clarity. Mogwai understand space in music like few other acts and the way it gives the textures they conjure room to breathe adds further dynamic heft to the moments in which they unleash their enormous, squalling crescendos.
Suspended from the ceiling is a sinister triumvirate of sentient hexagons which flicker and pulse to the music, lending a further layer to the atmosphere which is being dished out in thick heaping ladles. Midway through the set they kick into ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ and we know the apocalypse is coming. The midway breakdown is teased out, tailing into a solitary guitar strumming one chord, one chord, one chord. It seems fragile, almost languid. The tension is unbearable. Then comes the explosion.
Volume is Mogwai’s not-so-secret weapon, and even when you know it’s coming, it still decimates you. The ability to control music this loud is an art form - it could so easily devolve into an earsplitting mess. Instead it’s ecstatic, and they tame and ride the roiling sea perfectly. The main set ends with ‘We’re No Here’ spiralling into an enormous soup of looped angry bees as the hexagonal beacons join the strobe in vying to overwhelm all present with a frantic, epileptic hypnosis.
The vocoder is a little high in the mix for first encore ‘Hunted by a Freak’ but by the time they pile into crowd favourite ‘Batcat’, the hall knows it’s just witnessed something spectacular.
Why the fuck did I wait so long to see this band again? The rule from here on in is, ‘If Mogwai are in town, then we’re going to see Mogwai’.