Post-rock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
The minimal lyrics, or no lyrics at all, so disrupt the traditional rock formula that they easily turn audiences off, leaving them wanting for something they can actively participate in.
For the last 25 years, this fact has not stopped Scottish post-rock band Mogwai from creating some of the most lush soundscapes to grace the ears of fans on worldwide stages.
With David Pajo, aka Papa M, the Texas-born guitarist of post-rock pioneer act Slint, as the opening act, attendees to Mogwai's Saturday night show at Canton Hall had a whole night of expressive music ahead of them.
Playing with a simple Edison light behind him, creating a dimly lit silhouette in front of a dark room, Papa M opened with sparse Spanish guitar music with only an unsettling droning sound as his accompaniment. The motionless audience looked on silently.
Slowly, the drone transformed into a percussive loop as Papa M turned the stage into a site for live sound experimentation — at times with all of the aggression of a grunge band.
When the loops changed, the audience cheered. The change in pace was, after all, the only way to distinguish a single phrase from another in the performance's movement.
Switching between acoustic and electric guitars, Papa M’s styles spanned in influence, ranging from Indian sitar music to British folk.
Using the mic only to thank the audience and the band, Papa M closed his set with a simple nod and a wave after only about 20 minutes — a bit of a surprise for someone whose influence in the post-rock world is so important.
In anticipation of the headliner, 14-year-long Mogwai fan Houston Ellsworth, host of the punk podcast Local Obscene, says that he is stoked for the night’s performance and remembers a time when Mogwai’s music nourished his soul during a particularly difficult period.
two guitars, a bass, drum kit, keyboards, a computer, a lonely microphone and full background of amps, Mogwai took the stage to a surprisingly filled, yet not overpacked, performance space.
As the band greeted the audience, band leader Stuart Braithwaite, wearing a long-sleeve Slayer Reign in Blood shirt, saying “Hi, we’re Mogwai from Glasgow, Scotland, it’s good to be back in Dallas,” one fan yelled in response, “Come back more often.”
Clearly, Ellsworth was not alone in his devout appreciation for a band that has achieved cult-like status to many seeking out their brand of hope-through-darkness rock symphonies.
While many people attend concerts looking to connect with lyrics, those who attend Mogwai shows are looking to connect with a feeling. Having no lyrics allows for a full spectrum of emotion to identify with, varying from person to person. Fans cheer for changes in tune, not well-worded sentiments.
Looking around the audience at a Mogwai show, one sees many fans with their eyes closed and their heads up, taking in the music and feeling their spirits lift. For many, this is a religious experience as deep as one would find at any house of worship.
Even Mogwai’s stage presence is indicative of the intended emotional experience. Without song introductions or even stage banter, there is nothing for the audience to attach meaning to beyond the music itself.
Instrument changes happened seamlessly and without warning, often between phrases, Braithwaite and Dominic Aitchison switched between bass and guitar, John Cummings between keys and guitar, and Brendan O’Hare between guitar, synth and percussion, playing the drum kit’s cymbals as Barry Burns continued on drums — creating an all-encompassing sound that literally shook the hearts of the audience.
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Moving from dreaminess to spaciness to heaviness, Mogwai’s final movements were accompanied by strobe lights and head-banging as opposed to the head-nodding that had led up to the moment.
While Mogwai has been known to include lyrics with some of their expressions, the evening remained entirely lyric-less.
The tension and speculation that usually go with the blackout after an hourlong set and before a possible encore were a bit undercut by the fact that the band’s techs spent the blackout tuning the instruments, but Mogwai didn’t make fans wait too long.
Wrapping up the night on an uplifting note that left Braithwaite alone onstage as the band exited one by one, fans left Canton Hall filled with notes of encouragement and an ever-so-slightly raised sense of elation from their daily slog.