Review: Mogwai at Enmore Theatre, Sydney, 4 March 2018
Mogwai made a triumphant return Sydney on Sunday night for the first time since their spectacular appearance at the Opera House in 2015.
Well known for an incredibly dynamic and expansive back catalogue, Mogwai were able to live up to their reputation for forging creative and intense soundscapes saturated in emotion, but kept to the quieter side of their discography, focusing on their more simple, calm and straightforward material.
The night kicked of to a lukewarm start with Rings Around Saturn, a one-man electronic act who brought a washed out, spacey electronica set to the audience. While complimentary to Mogwai’s instrumental and experimental nature, the music lacked much needed dynamism. The songs often meandered, never really building to anything discernible or particularly memorable.
Tracks went for upwards of 5 minutes, which wouldn’t normally be an issue, but without any promise of evolving to something more than interlude music it grew to be quite tedious. Sadly, Rings became background music to a chatty audience, who waited for something to pull their attention back.
After Rings was ushered off for playing well overtime, Mogwai were a refreshing change, but were also slow to start. They opened with ‘Crossing the Road’, which felt a bit rigid, mirrored in their stage energy, and didn’t expand in intensity as well as it does on record.
The band then moved into their slower, more tranquil and relaxing material, highlighted by ‘Cody’ – a lamenting, melancholy and utterly beautiful song packed with sadness. Whilst a beautiful rendition, it left the night feeling a bit sluggish by this point, especially after the opening act.
The set continued at this pace for the next 20 minutes, and it wasn’t until they hit crowd favourite ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ that things finally started to pick up in intensity. The song’s soft piano melody swelled from melancholia to an intense crescendo that left everyone in the room permanently deaf and cheering.
The lighting display also started to ramp up at this stage of the show, moving from mere background lights to entwining with the movements of the songs.
The second half of the set proved much more engaging. Of note was ‘New Paths to Helicon pt 1’ and the classic ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, a 10 minute ode to musical variation with one of the greatest audible punches in music’s history. Both of these songs were captivating live, oscillating in intensity and emotional weight, leaving the crowd awestruck.
The band ended on the brutal closer of ‘We’re No Here’; an angry, ploddy song that feels as bitter and biting as it sounds, and left the audience in a whirlwind of feedback, fog and exhaustion. Fingers were put in ears throughout the crowd, with the noise levels turned up way beyond comfort for some, even for those who knew what they were in for.
While the set understandably focused on newer material, and pulled single tracks from a variety of the bands many albums, there was a noticeable lack of Mogwai’s stronger songs in this set. While there’s no expectation for the show to be a greatest hits performance, the set-list felt skewed to the ambient side of their back catalogue, which left the night feeling a bit too melancholy, especially for a standing crowd.
Mogwai’s ability to capture a wide range of emotions so intensely through instrumental songs has always been impressive, and this performance did nothing to jeopardize that. The mix between quiet and bold moments leaned too much to the former, and could have been more balanced to suit the venue, however it was excellent to hear material from the new album live, as well as some of their more obscure songs that don’t usually see the stage.
All in all, an excellent performance