Concert Review by Kris Griffiths
Live at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London – April 2001
Mogwai, the post-rock quartet from Scotland, have been dubbed as ‘a symbol of real punk-rock hope’ on the bleak landscape that is British music. Meanwhile, the landscape of a rain swept Shepherd’s Bush Green is made even bleaker by the throngs of long-haired, baggy-jeaned teens congesting the pavement outside the Empire. Avoiding the scramble as the doors open, the feeling that one has just entered a West-End metal club heightens with the entrance of the first support band- a European (Dutch or German) thrash-metal trio. No sooner have their Germanic growls subsided some ladies step onstage to do a sound-check, tinkering around with a guitar and keyboard for half an hour. Witnessing the patchy applause that greeted their exit, I found out that they had actually been the second support band- an Icelandic electro pop outfit with a silly name: ‘Mum’.
With the venue now surprisingly reaching maximum capacity, the buzz of expectancy for the headliners was actually a little bit exciting. Unfortunately the excitement was to be short-lived. Mogwai’s opening number, ‘Sine Wave’, begins with a long stretch of gentle acoustic melody that gradually crumples into a deafening cacophony of overdriven guitars and battered drums, all of which is complemented with loads of strobes and smoke. And basically, pretty much every song thereafter is a bit of the same. Despite there being three microphones onstage, they are barely used save for the odd fragmented lyric from skin-headed vocalist Stuart Braithwaite. The puzzling entrance of a string quartet halfway through the set signals the first song with proper vocals, DIAL REVENGE, yet in keeping with the evening’s European theme, the lyrics happen to be German. Upon closer listening however, they turn out to be Welsh. As for the strings, the contrast in sounds is interesting for about one minute, as it was when a certain American metal band combined their noise with a symphony orchestra. The string players then leave the stage only to re-appear for the next song as a brass quartet, but the resulting sonic disorder remains.
Despite the band clearly being talented musicians – the scarily energetic drummer in particular – their efforts appear to be wasted: the crowd can’t dance or jump around as there is no tune, and they can’t sing as there are no words. When the final song, MY FATHER MY KING, reaches its familiar finale of howling distortion, once again the silent spectators don’t know when to start applauding, or in this case, when to start leaving. One guitarist remains onstage banging the last drop of feedback out of his guitar, which remains ringing around the venue long after he’s finally walked off. And on that final wailing note, I ask myself whilst trudging out with the mumbling masses – what exactly was so original or radical about all of that?