Mogwai, Webster Hall, 5.12.06
We walked in halfway though the first song, so I missed out on the opening moments where the band arrives and finds their stations, which always tells me a lot about a group. All I could determine was that there were a bunch of guys on the stage all dressed exactly like Brandon Downing.
The first thing I noticed about the sound was that the mix was crystal clear and not too loud. It was, hands down, the most conscientious mixing of any rock band in a venue this size I have ever heard. They had no stage presence, or, I should say, they had a classic shoegazer stage presence. They literarily looked at their shoes for the entire show, and barely moved, though they were intent-seeming and did seem to enjoy themselves. Careful, crystalline production of their signature sound is what they were there for. They actually seemed uncomfortable with themselves on stage physically- which worked fine. The audience seemed to reflect some these characteristics - being mostly polite mid-to-late twenties couples totally engrossed in the music.
There were almost no vocals. The vocals that Mogwai did use were arranged like instrumental parts - vocoder-ized and produced with no particular fanfare by the keyboard player. I was surprised to find that my absorption in the show was delayed my the lack of vocal drama. That expectation of a rock show must run a little deeper than I realized, since 70% of my CD collection is instrumental music in the form of jazz... People do need a character to identify with. Mogwai works a little differently, though -- they produce an environment that the listener is gradually absorbed into, and hopefully, swept up in. At the beginning of songs, audience members were clapping and cheering in recognition after a single bar of a picked guitar pattern was played. This made me think that listeners were spending a lot of time with the albums, perhaps to the point of self-medicating with them.
Much of Mogwai's music is based on petal-point guitar picking patterns contrasted against big, layered, power chord riffs, giving a modal feel but with the excitement of heavy rock music --all with a broad underlying spectrum of texture that ranges from single-note tremolo picking to lush organ to jagged guitar noise. The subdued picking patterns are build into huge, gothic power chord landscapes, creating an undeniable feeling of expanding scale, riff-switching between earthy and celestial effects.