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Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The Sun Smells Too Loud

Mogwai and The Twilight Sad at The Phoenix in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThere’s a scene in the Danny Boyle film Sunshine (a fantastic movie, by the way) wherein the spaceship’s psych officer is in the observation deck and asks the ship’s computer to open up the shades blocking out most of the Sun’s intensity, even though he knows that doing so would be almost instantly fatal (the computer refuses and he settles for the minimum safe amount, don’t worry, no spoiler – it’s the opening scene). The point being that same urge, the one that compels you to do what is obviously unsafe in order to experience something huge and awesome and terrible in a direct, unfiltered form, is what overtook me a couple times on Monday night at the Phoenix when I slipped one of my earplugs out, just for a moment, during sets by both Mogwai and The Twilight Sad.

I hadn’t originally intended to attend this show. I certainly wasn’t going to go to the one it was making up for, a September 2008 cancelled on account of Mogwai drummer’s Martin Bulloch’s pacemaker malfunctioning – not for lack of interest, really, but because I’d seen them when they’d swung through town back in July. And there’s not a lot of bands that I want/need to see twice in the span of three months. But when this tour was announced, it had been long enough since last time that I was considering it and when The Twilight Sad were slated as support, that sealed it – there was no way I was going to miss out.

It’s been a couple years since they released their debut Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters and as long since their one and only visit and even though you could never say that the band had a surplus of conventional stage presence, they still made a hell of an impression with the sheer aural intensity of their performance, and I’ve been waiting a long while for them to return. Though still formally a four-piece, they had with them an extra touring player covering keyboard duties and also second guitar for those moments where a zillion decibels apparently wasn’t quite enough.

With a new album almost done and set for an Autumn release, the set featured no shortage of new material and while I loved Autumns for its ability to essentially take one trick – huge, sustained guitar-driven crescendo and bellowed Scottish angst – and extend it out over an entire record without getting samey, but rehashing that on a second album simply wouldn’t have done. And to their credit, the new material doesn’t follow the formula but as such existed so far outside of my Twilight Sad frame of reference that offering an opinion with further listens wouldn’t be of any value – but I can say that they’re still decidedly dark and morose in tone, so any fears that they’ve lightened up can be put to rest. But it was still the old material that delivered the goods, huge and epic and like a sonic body massage. No, they still don’t do much on stage visually though singer James Graham does wander around a bit more than he did before, but looking is beside the point – it’s about the hearing. And the destruction of your ability to do so.

Going over my review of Mogwai’s show from last year, I find that I’ve already said much of what I’m inclined to say about this one – which is fitting because the general gist of it was that even though one Mogwai show isn’t too different from the next, they’re still always memorable experiences. It’s funny that most discussion of Mogwai focuses on the LOUD part of their dynamic – and make no mistake, when they get loud, it’s loud – but they spend so much more of their time exploring the quiet. And with the night’s set list leaning heavily on the last three records and their slower, more expansive and cinematic qualities, it was the perfect opportunity to listen – really listen – to how marvelously they do the little things. The intricate guitar picking, the gentle taps on the high-hat, the whirring textures of the keyboards – it’s simply gorgeous.

But of course there was the loud. Volume spiked throughout the show but it was the closing triumvirate that reminded, as if it was necessary, that Mogwai remained one of the absolute loudest bands around. First there was the extended apocalypse of “Mogwai Fear Satan”, still as unrelentingly potent as it was when it was released a decade ago and then just as the audience was picking itself off the floor, the thundering main set closer of “Glasgow Mega Snake” featuring one of the nastiest guitar riffs from anywhere, by anyone. And for the encore, a scorched earth “My Father, My King” that left nothing standing. I ducked out as things descended into feedback and even outside the venue, I could still hear it throb. Epic.

Chart also has a review of the show and there’s interviews with Mogwai at The Enterprise News, Metro and Pulse Niagara.

Photos: Mogwai, The Twilight Sad @ The Phoenix – May 4, 2009
MP3: Mogwai – “Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home”
MP3: Mogwai – “Tracy”
MP3: Mogwai – “Dial: Revenge”
MP3: Mogwai – “Hunted By A Freak”
MP3: Mogwai – “7:25”
MP3: The Twilight Sad – “Cold Days From The Birdhouse”
MP3: The Twilight Sad – “That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy”
Video: Mogwai – “Travel Is Dangerous”
Video: Mogwai – “Friend Of The Night”
Video: Mogwai – “Hunted By A Freak”
Video: Mogwai – “Dial: Revenge”
MySpace: Mogwai
MySpace: The Twilight Sad

Drowned In Sound and Clash interview The Vaselines, whose Enter The Vaselines compilation is out now and who play Lee’s Palace next Friday night, May 15.

Patrick Wolf’s new album The Bachelor is still set for a June 1 release in the UK, but in North America, we’ll only be privvy to the digital release on that date (well, the 2nd). Those of us who still like physical media will have to wait for August 11 when his new label NYLON – as in the people behind NYLON – will make it available, details at Pitchfork. But they’re also sponsoring a tour in June – headlined by Wolf and also featuring Living Things and France’s Plasticines – so the delayed release is forgiven. I’d worried that with Wolf now without major label backing, he and his audacious live shows would have some difficulty coming back to North America. Only one date has been made public so far – June 14 in Minneapolis – but based on that we can (hopefully) expect to see Wolf hereabouts in mid-June. There’s interviews with Wolf at Arjan Writes, MusicOhm and NYLON.

The September 18 date at Lee’s Palace was already revealed, but Pitchfork has full Fall tour dates for Maximo Park in support of Quicken The Heart, out next week. They’re also offering up an MP3 from the album.

MP3: Maximo Park – “Let’s Get Clinical”

Drowned In Sound talks to The Horrors. They’re at the Phoenix tomorrow night opening up for The Kills.

Decider talks to Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. Their new album The Knot is out July 21.

A third Dears b-side MP3 is now available.

MP3: The Dears – “Meltdown In A Major” (OG Demo Version)

Wolfe Island Musicfest taking place August 8 on Wolfe Island in the Thousand Islands at Kingston. This year, the Marysville baseball diamond will be rocked by the sounds of Holy Fuck, Busdriver (this one? Dunno), Apostle Of Hustle, Attack In Black, Woodhands, The D’Urbervilles, Ohbijou, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Julie Fader. Solid? Definitely. Worth the drive to Kingston? Probably.

By : Frank Yang at 8:06 am
Category: Concert Reviews

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RSS Feed for this post4 Responses.
  1. Bruce says:

    I guess I’m the crew member who bathed in the full radiance of the sun, and so my sanity should be in question. Reached for the earplugs a few times, but resisted, which was likely foolish. Notwithstanding (or maybe withstanding), I enjoyed Twilight Sad, who I was primarily there to see, quite a lot, especially given that they chose my favourites to include in the set. And the new stuff with its radically more conventional structures really surprised, even if, as you say, the mood was consistent with their older material.

    That was my first time seeing Mogwai, who really impressed. Forewarned, I took in their set (again, unprotected) from the very back of the room, which seemed like a good choice. My ears peaked in the red a few times, but the quiet bits were mesmerising, and from that distance it never got as overwhelming as, say, MBV (but really, could anything?).

  2. My Father, My King « Hey Joe… says:

    […] I don’t have much more to say about Monday night’s Mogwai show than what Dan and Frank have already said, except for one short […]

  3. Melissa says:

    I’ve heard so many good things about Mogwai live but I opted to see Franz Ferdinand instead since I knew their music better. I will definitely be checking out Mogwai though, thank you! This blog is amzing, I don’t know what I would do without the countless concert announcements and intros to new artists.

  4. Maggie303 says:

    Just have to say I love your review of Mogwai-and how you can really appreciate the details of their songs…especially Tracy. Thanks for the great blog, so glad to discover you.