Of all places, I was at a bus stop on the edge of North Hobart when an elusive buzz rang from my jacket pocket. Said buzz was to notify me that I had received a message from a very old friend who declared to me that he held within his hands a spare ticket to see Scottish post-rock icons Mogwai: very live and very loud at the MAC2 shed as part of the Dark Mofo festival. So, from one place to the next, I wound up walking into the gigantic, industrial and cold shed at the water’s edge of Salamanca, primed and eager to hear what the festival headliners were to present.
To think that a band like Mogwai, whose history has been formed far from the reaches of top 40 or ‘big air time’ on radio, could conjure a large crowd in a place like Hobart is a kind of adventurous thought within itself. But all doubts I held about the turn-out were swept away when we realized, two minutes before the band came on, that we couldn’t actually move inside the venue: the people had swarmed in, and swarmed hard they had. And after such swarming, five men wandered slowly onto the stage and began collecting up the instruments that lay about. They did so quietly enough that only the front of the venue noticed them, a small round of applause and cheers prompted the rest of the crowd to turn their attention upon the stage slowly. At this point, I noticed that the majority of the crowd were projecting a kind of wonderment look of anticipation; awaiting whatever the five men on stage were going to do. And after a slow, whirling beginning, they launched hard and loudly into the set.
For those unaware, Mogwai are a Scottish (mostly) instrumental outfit, whose song writing encompasses elements of shoegaze, alternative rock, slowcore but perhaps most prominently post-rock. Known for their nine sprawling albums which vary from the slowly ambient and the downright saddening to the groovy, long winded guitar based rock, the band built themselves up in Glasgow in the mid nineties with the assistance of the king of underground radio: John Peel. The aforementioned comment about unintentionally steering clear of commercial success hasn’t seemed to bother Mogwai over the years. I know that the mass amounts of adoring fans, crammed and cluttered into MAC2 didn’t seem to care that much at all either.
The first two songs the band played seemed much more up beat to the Mogwai ‘sound’ that I was familiar with. Nevertheless, as the set continued things got louder and louder, heavier and heavier, denser and denser. Soon I could hear the chuggingly loud chord progressions likened to that of the early live days of My Bloody Valentine (minus the pretentious wall of sound conjured up by Kevin Shields pedal masturbation). The sound ricocheted so heavily inside the walls of the giant shed that it felt like the band was playing to you, and you only. The small gaps of silence between the lengthy songs were filled by low key audience interaction of ‘thank you’s’, punctuated by the odd screaming girl bellowing out something like ‘play Mogwai Fear Satan!’. Before I could acknowledge what song the band was playing, I realized the entire set had been culminating in a crescendo of sorts: songs were getting longer, louder, groovier and darker all at the same time. People had begun crying, closing their eyes, sitting upon the floor… The sound flew around the room so pure it simultaneously punched and cradled every open ear in the venue. Things concluded and the band were promptly cheered back on to perform a two song encore. The first was the longest song they played, turning dynamics from slow and almost silent to giant bursts of loudness and energy. The second was a much more groove based affair. Impressed is too weak a word.
“Thank you, Hobart!” They stood and waved, exiting the stage. As some poured from the venue, I could see groups of people around the shed amassing together in congregated groups, discussing what they’d seen, covered in sweat and an air of confusion. We wandered outside into the freezingly cold winter air that rolled in from the ocean. I smelt like an odd mixture of beer and sweat. My friend seemed lost for words with the music still ringing in his ears. He spat out, “I would like to call myself an atheist of sorts, but whatever happened in there had something to do with God.” I shook his hand and put my jacket back on and wandered off along the wharf in the crowd of concert goers, silently acknowledging what we had all witnessed way back there, in awe, together.