Twenty years ago, three teenagers held their first rehearsal in the living room of bandleader Stuart Braithwaite’s parents’ house in Glasgow. Expanding to a quintet, the group have now become synonymous with the post-rock genre they helped define, while adding electronica and Krautrock to the mix.
The runaway momentum of the Mogwai train has seen them balance near-universal critical acclaim with chart success. Now the locomotive has pulled up to the buffers of the historic Roundhouse for two evenings of anniversary shows, kicking off the All Tomorrow’s Parties season. Curated by the band and taking place over 12 days, the range and stature of artists – from Public Enemy to The Jesus And Mary Chain – reflect both the esteem in which the hosts are held, and the range of their own influences. The early EP track Superheroes Of BMX opens the set in sedate style, with its trip-hop drum machine backing and slowly evolving haze of organ and arpeggiated guitar. It’s an understated yet stately opening, complemented sympathetically by a sophisticated lighting rig. Mogwai have a fairly static stage presence – the music is the star, and its abstract wash of cycling emotions is amplified as the venue’s huge, domed ceiling is bathed in colour. Stanley Kubrick sets the crowd swaying, each experiencing their own solipsistic reaction, while there’s a palpable sense of a communal sharing of the event, which is a key part of this act’s live package deal.
As the evening progresses, the volume increases and the elegiac tone diminishes. Dominic Aitchison’s bassline to George Square Thatcher Death Party sets feet moving as pockets of spontaneous dancing break out, prolonged by a simmering beat-driven fuzz-bass-propelled Remurdered from the current Rave Tapes album. Mogwai Fear Satan is the cue for many to adjust their ear protectors. What has so far been an extremely loud gig is about to go one louder. There’s a quiet, restrained power behind the band’s most beautiful tracks. When that restraint is decoupled in heavier sections, the sheer force is a tidal surge.
One of the upsides of hosting your own birthday party is that, apart from choosing the bands, you get to indulge yourself, so tonight is rounded off by a 20-minute epic that hasn’t been aired much in the last decade. My Father, My King’s insistent forward motion is thrilling, crashing in a squall of feedback. Simultaneously primal and beatific, Mogwai’s appeal is wide-ranging. There’s no reason why they cannot continue to innovate, get more passengers on board and keep this train a-rollin’ for another 20 years.