Here's every Mogwai song in a nutshell: A chiming keyboard or guitar pattern repeats. Instrumentation slowly builds around it. Then, it detonates into a searing fireball of noise. Sometimes it's major-key, sometimes it's minor-key. Occasionally there are vocals and the tempo varies, but just about every song executes this trajectory in the span of five minutes.
They're a one-trick pony, but man, do they ever nail that trick.
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Last night at the Granada, the Scottish band repeated this formula with explosive results just about every time. This is a band that fans should experience live at least once. Music that makes a fine accompaniment for driving or adds a dramatic soundtrack to your workday routine is something else entirely when played at the teeth-rattling volume Mogwai favor. Mogwai may fear Satan, but they do not fear tinnitus.
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Yet last night, if anything, it wasn't loud enough. The first time I saw them, it was a transcendental experience. This time was great too, but without the sound waves literally blowing my hair back like they did that first time, it wasn't quite the same. I even overheard conversations mid-song, which wouldn't have been possible even if anyone near me at that Bonnaroo performance wasn't too stunned by what they were witnessing (or too high) to speak. That could be the nature of seeing them a second time. But maybe not: I asked my date who'd never seen them before what she thought, and she described them as "almost hypnotic." Almost.
But almost hypnotic and nearly transcendental are still well within greatness. The Glasgow five-and-a-half-piece (Luke Sutherland joined them onstage with violin, guitar, percussion or vocals during about every other song) whispered and roared for just more than an hour and a half to a mostly entranced crowd. There was the odd ecstatic dancer and some enthusiastic head-nodding, but mostly the audience just stared in awe as the band sculpted their chaotic soundscapes.
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Much of the show was dedicated to new songs from this year's Rave Tapes. They opened with the relatively minimal "I Heard About You Last Night," an oddly subdued choice to kick off such an otherwise big-sounding show, but the energy picked up right away with the more familiar "Friend of the Night." And while older songs garnered whoops of recognition and perhaps more enthusiastic head-bobbing, Mogwai's newer material is just as strong as anything they have released in their nearly two-decade-long career.
The crowd mostly looked to be thirtysomethings, which makes sense given the band's long history. But shows like that can convince music lovers of any age of the band's power. Especially that first time.