Sunday night, the Scottish post-rock band made volume central to its sound at the Civic.
[Updated] Most every Mogwai song follows the same formula. An understated basic-chord harmony builds up into a sweeping, cosmic crescendo of instrumentation and sound. There are not a lot of change-ups, and speed-shifts usually occur just once, in the middle, facilitating the inevitable explosion-of-sound. The repetition is such that when listened to on a stereo or laptop, the instrumentals are subdued, almost ambient.
The Scottish post-rock titans, who played the Civic Theatre Sunday night, adhered to a similarly mathematical structure for their first couple of songs. The guys emerged onto the stage in hoodies and baseball caps with the kind of tired restraint that communicates: We’ve done this four plus times already this week.
The group started things off with “Heard About You Last Night,” a track off their new album, Rave Tapes, released in January of this year. It’s a slow, meandering track, and seemed like a surprising choice to kick things off given the band’s affinity for big, booming chords—and the number of crowd-mobilizing songs in their discography. The song ended and frontman Stuart Braithwaite met the crowd’s applause with a measured “Thank you so much, cheers,” which would serve as his default rejoinder for the evening. The band followed with the more familiar “Friend of the Night,” the title track off their 2006 album.
The third song, “Take Me Somewhere Nice“ involved a little more flourish, and that’s when things got Biblical. It was the moment when the heavens—and my ear drums—were rent asunder. Somewhere in the third song the decibel level reached teeth-chattering intensity. Braithwaite whipped out the electric guitar, and the vaulted interior of the Civic became a veritable Chamber of Sound—and stayed that way for the rest of the set.
To say that the show was loud is an understatement. It’s as though it was engineered to induce organ failure. There was not a spot in the house that was not tangibly vibrating from the sonic force. The seats in the balcony up top. The elevated area stage-right. At the back of the crowd. The sound level was penetrating, epic. Mogwai’s music is so steady and without dissonance that the overall effect was one of hypnosis, like a protracted body high.
There was not much dancing, I suspect because everyone was physically incapacitated by the noise. Body swaying, head bobbing, and some dry-heaving in the bathroom dominated the crowd’s involvement with the show. There was, however, one moment when a girl, during the band’s performance of the popular track “Wizard Motor,” leaned in towards the right-side amp and was quite literally blasted back a foot or so into the crowd.
All in all, the only immediate negative side effect of the noise level was the social media aftermath (it seems a gauntlet was thrown for who was most #afflicted by the sound). Some bands have smoke, whistles, cartoonish foam fingers. Being loud is Mogwai’s thing, and the intensity is jarring, all-encompassing, and transcendent.
Updated May 5, 2:41 p.m.
The publicity photo was replaced with the photo by Steven Hatley.