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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mogwai at Mandela

Review + Photos by Jessica Capps
It is a Sunday night at Belfast’s Mandela Hall, and Mogwai has taken the stage, with glasses of wine in hand. The wine seems especially appropriate, considering that Mogwai is here tonight for a sort of atonement: “Today we were reminded that we played our worst gig ever here,” guitarist Stuart Braithwaite laments apologetically. By the end of tonight, the experimental Glaswegians will more than redeem themselves.

With the exception of a brief gaffe before opener “White Noise” (a false-start from a MacBook), the band flawlessly maneuvered through fourteen lengthy cult hits, a melange of thick reverb, meandering melody, and distortion-wailing post-rock anthems. It was a set that pleased old and new fans alike, as Mogwai delivered songs from their earliest albums alongside those from their recently released Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. The audience’s equally enthusiastic reception of both this year’s “Mexican Grand Prix” and 2003′s “Hunted By A Freak” is testimony that Mogwai’s embrace of new technology has expanded their already significant cult following.

This embrace of technology was best evidenced by the giant LCD screen seen towering behind the band, emitting twirling abstract visuals throughout the set. During “How To Be A Werewolf,” the screen silhouetted the band as it rolled stunning footage of round-the-world cyclist James Bowthorpe cruising through the Norwegian countryside.

Perhaps the show’s most memorable moment, however, was during “Mogwai Fear Satan,” in which drummer Martin Bulloch assisted the gently ambling guitars of John Cummings, Barry Burns, and Dominic Aitchison in lulling the audience into a pleasant reverie for over five minutes…Only to make a jolting, reverb-drenched, mid-song gear-change, with all of the sympathetic shock of jumping into a freezing swimming pool after a stint in a hot tub.

After a two-song encore, Mogwai closed out the night with “My Father My King,” and bid goodbye to a euphoric audience still shouting song requests. If it was atonement Mogwai sought, Mandela Hall seemed happy to forgive one of post-rock’s most celebrated bands.

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