Mogwai @ Turner Hall Ballroom
May 9, 2009
Mogwai has been polishing their rock instrumentals since 1995, but the Glaswegians seem to have gained some new fans from 2006's intrepidly tidy Mr. Beast and their most recent collection, The Hawk Is Howling, as their intense post-rock instrumentals drew a surprisingly youthful crowd to the Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday. Whatever the case, rock, indie and metal kids, flanked by older fans who've followed the band since their beginnings, waited expectantly and did the typical rock-fan freakout when the quintet strode onstage, strapping on their guitars and calmly posing themselves behind their instruments.
"Dynamics, dynamics, dynamics" is the mantra of Mogwai's live performances, with crushing distortion and chest-thumping bass erupting after long buildups of spacious, orderly notes in a perpetual game of cat and mouse. Commanding attention through these shifts of subtlety and drawn-out buildups, the band creates overtones that, although quiet, are weightier than the heavy fuzz and feedback of their more metal-ed up moments.
The strong-but-silent type, the group rarely looked up while dishing out a wide range of their material (including "Christmas Steps," "Auto Rock," "Batcat" and "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead,"), pausing only to utter a "thank you" before keeping the momentum by launching into their next slow-burner. The brief interludes where multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns took to laptop and keyboard setups provided some lightness to offset the heavy assault put forth by Stuart Braithwaite, John Cummings and Dominic Aitchison's guitar intensity. After the first set ended, the crowd erupted into cheers and synchronized clapping to lure the group back, and Mogwai readily obliged by turning out two more epics, leaving the stage in a squall of flashing strobes and some of the longest waves of feedback Milwaukee has chanced to absorb in quite some time.