For Live Friday this week, considering that Mogwai coincidentally also released their first live CD/DVD on Tuesday, this is going to serve as something of a 2 birds, one stone type of situation. If you’ve never heard a Mogwai record before, that’s something you need to experience sooner rather than later. The band’s largely instrumental compositions are post-rock of the most epic sort, often slowly building in ferocity until peaks are reached and there’s a cathartic release of skull-pounding noise. It’s something they’ve been doing for over 13 years and 6+ studio albums, and though the sentiment tends to be that they’ve started to get stale and have been treading water the last couple albums, there are still clear highlights on each to make everything in their catalogue worthwhile. Yes, albums like their debut “Young Team” and “Rock Action” will always hold a revered place amongst Mogwai fans, but scorched Earth later period songs like “Glasgow Mega-Snake” and “Batcat” will be there too, mostly because they’re so damn good.
New York’s Music Hall of Williamsburg isn’t exactly the most thrilling venue to create a live CD/DVD, that is compared to other bands who choose to make their live recordings at special anniversary shows or at a highly unique location or something similar. The combination package, the CD portion of which is titled “Special Moves” and the DVD portion titled “Burning” was recorded in total over 3 nights at MHOW, but constitute what might be considered a very accurate portrayal of what you’d see and hear at your average Mogwai show. It’s also a very well balanced collection of songs, selecting songs from each of Mogwai’s albums and not displaying any particular favoritism towards any period of their careers. And while requisite mind-exploders like “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Like Herod” are staples of virtually any Mogwai show, they also dive a little deeper beyond the flagrantly fantastic for a subdued moment like “Cody” or the not-quite-obvious choice of “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School”. What really stands as a testament to how amazing Mogwai are live is how well they’re able to take these career-spanning songs of various quality and seamlessly blend them together to the point where everything sounds mindblowing. Sure, there are some epic standouts, but despite this not being a greatest hits record it can often feel like one, with just a tiny amount of crowd noise in between to remind you that it’s live.
In terms of the “Burning” live DVD that you can get as part of the live package, it’s a black-and-white affair directed by the great Vincent Moon along with Nathanaël Le Scouarnec. The “Special Moves” CD might be a great audio representation of Mogwai’s music in a live setting, but to capture the full effect you absolutely need to see what’s happening on stage. From the smart lighting work to Martin Bulloch’s shockingly effective drum work, those are just two big positives among a wealth of them proving that this band is best when they’re both seen and heard. There’s not a ton of overlap between the CD and DVD tracklistings, and the DVD-exclusive renditions of “The Precipice” and “Batcat” are pretty jaw-dropping in their own right amongst heavy-hitters like “Hunted By A Freak” and “Like Herod”. And while the DVD may show you what a completely enthralling experience Mogwai’s live show is, unless you’ve got a gigantic TV with an extreme number of speakers you’ll never be able to fully recreate what it’s like to be in the same room as the band mows down a large crowd with an intense amount of noise. Your entire body vibrates, your hair stands on end, and more than likely you’ll have some hearing damage to contend with. For those who aren’t going to be able to catch a Mogwai live performance anytime soon, or simply just want to have a recorded show at their beck and call, “Special Moves” and “Burning” are your two grand companions for that. They also serve as a fantastic introduction to the band if they’re new to you.
While I am unable to offer you some mp3s from “Special Moves” for your downloading pleasure, thankfully I do have a relatively large archive of Mogwai live bootlegs I can choose from. So what you’ll find below is a session the band did on BBC Radio 1 back in 2006 around the release of their album “Mr. Beast”. Naturally then, most of the tracks pull from that album, but it still gives a pretty strong impression of what Mogwai sounds like live, even if it’s not quite the quality “Special Moves” and “Burning” have to offer.
Mogwai – Friend of the Night (Live on BBC1)
Mogwai – Glasgow Mega-Snake (Live on BBC1)
Mogwai – Summer (Live on BBC1)
Mogwai – Acid Food (Live on BBC1)
Mogwai – Folk Death 95 (Live on BBC1)
Mogwai – Travel Is Dangerous (Live on BBC1)
Mogwai – We’re No Here (Live on BBC1)
Buy “Special Moves” and “Burning” in various packages from Rock Action