Sonic mass: Mogwai give Wellington a Glaswegian kick to the bollocks

Mogwai, supported by Mick Turner, 6 March 2015, James Cabaret, Wellington 

Set list

MoggersThere was once a “rave” called Sonic Mass. “A sonic gathering of creation” touted the poster. I was sixteen, fair of ginge, and it was the first time I was ever moved by music. But let me clarify here, when I say moved, I am not referring to an emotional state, I mean actually moved by the music, physically stimulated – “dear shit, this music is slapping me around!” It was our first rave, and as my young cohorts and I approached the outdoor carpark venue on Lukes Lane, I felt my stomach shaking, the bones of my rib cage jittering and the sound from the massive speakers pushing at the air creating a soft pulsing breeze on our face and gently muting our eardrums with a cavernous wall of noise. We hadn’t even gotten inside yet. That was 1996.

Mogwai held another sonic mass at James Cabaret last night. My ribs rattled, my stomach shook, and the speakers pulsed a massive invisible wall of sound on a lucky packed James Cabaret crowd. They called the tour Rave Tapes, named after their latest critically acclaimed album and after missing out on Mogwai in Tokyo a few years back due to knee surgery I had been eagerly awaiting the chance to catch one of the two bands I would gladly kill to see. Well, perhaps kill is an exaggeration, but, there are two bands I would class as my musical wet dream, Melbourne’s Dirty Three and Scotland’s Mogwai. At sonic mass II last night, this lucky little red head got a taste of both. I found out perhaps an hour prior that Dirty Three’s Mick Turner was slotted in as the warm up act. My bed was therefore sopping at the thought of this much awaited event. It didn‘t fail to meet my rather high expectations.

Mick unceremoniously opened with his trademark melancholic guitar meanderings that he effortlessly wove and looped into a storm of music. The crowd stood spellbound and appreciative. It was like a two-man version of Mogwai, if not with a slightly more rustic edge. The only words spoken by Mick were after he had packed away his gear and was about exit the stage: “Mogwai will be on soon,” he coyly remarked as if the crowd had been impatient to see him out and get to the main course. Fuck off, Mick, you mad humble fool, you had the crowd spellbound. The gig could’ve ended there and I would’ve already had my money’s worth as that was sonic mass enough… and then Mogwai came on.

“We’re Mogwai from Glasgow,” said Braithwaite to the crowd, their semblance of a front man. Fair enough. Their opener, Heard about you last night, from Rave tapes, was a monster introduction, yet was proven to be rather low key given the way the rest of the songs unfolded and escalated. They didn’t faff about and the second track, I’m Jim Morrison I’m dead, had their guitars merging into a near-deafening single sound. So loud, yet, not… That wall of sound I mentioned, inescapable. I really should’ve clued my girlfriend Katie up a little more with what an auditory assault the gig was likely to be. Although I’d played her a few of my favourites the only inkling she’d gotten of how loud it would be was when she was at the James Cab bar and overheard someone saying, “Apparently Mogwai are the loudest band in the world.” Mogwai delivered and proved that trite conversation piece to be accurate within four tracks. We’re not here to fuck spiders, as the kids are saying these days. It was a decent set and the lads from Mogwai played a smattering of tracks spanning their rather lengthy time together.

Mogwai are a bunch of regular looking dudes and rather perfunctory as a group. We’ve got songs to play, let’s play em, they seem to say. Bassist, Dominic Aitchison, looks joyless as he fingers away on his bass. Fair enough. Braithwaite seems a little more enthused, but regardless, it’s not to the detriment, as the music Mogwai plays has an energy of its own, that physical assault I mentioned. And I did say this wasn’t an emotional thing, but that’s actually inaccurate. Very few bands can make my soul scream, laugh, surge with excitement like Mogwai does. I felt weak kneed afterwards, ears ringing. It was an honour to see them.

Mogwai leave the stage guitars screaming

Mogwai leave the stage guitars screaming

The set closed with We’re no here and they exited the stage and left their instruments ringing in unison with distortion and feedback. There’s that wet dream again, sonic as ever, screaming. They returned, as is expected these days, with an extra couple of ditties. Hunted by a Freak and Mogwai fear satan, two favourites of mine and a great way to close. After the gentle swaying lull in Mogwai fear satan, it escalated rather steeply. It was at this point I finally saw folk in the crowd putting fingers in ears. Make it stop – but don’t, they seemed to say. Mogwai again exited with guitars screaming in unison. Bloody crikey, they weren’t even playing yet their guitars had merged into one sonic sound and sonic mass, if you will. The black clad roadies mounted the stage and flicked the monitors off, silence had never seemed so loud. The crowd exited bewildered, assaulted, sated, yet and with ears ringing. Katie said something to me. “What?” I answered. “That was loud!” she shouted. “We weren’t here to fuck spiders.” I replied. “What?” she shouted. “Oh, about 11.45pm!” I yelled.


About Brendan

Brendan is a music fan and writer who currently resides in Wellington, NZ. His hobbies include blogging, taking pictures of people sleeping on trains, flailing his arms wildly and being ginger. You can read more of his work over at Elkano Creative blog..
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