Those familiar with Mogwai’s oeuvre will know that the Glasgow band have become masters of the creeping crescendo, their largely instrumental music inching incrementally from delicate quietude to thunderous blasts of rib-rattling guitar noise. But in recent years they have broadened their sonic palette, so that this show, the first of two nights in London, featured tracks such as “Deesh” and “Remurdered” (both from their new Rave Tapes album), which were typically blistering but also featured vintage-sounding synths and electronic beats. Likewise, “How to Be a Werewolf” (with its glittering Frippery from guitarist Stuart Braithwaite) showed off their relatively new-found enthusiasm for rhythms that run somewhat faster than the resting pace of a human heart. Even more radically, “Mexican Grand Prix” illustrated how they have launched latterly into wholly new territory, creating music that eschews their tried and tested quiet-loud-quiet template and maintains roughly the same volume level all the way through.
There were, however, enough examples here of the old-school Mogwai – the kind of music that once saw them garlanded with the label “post rock” – to keep traditionalists happy: songs such as the epic “Christmas Steps”, whose chords seemed to threaten the structural integrity of the Royal Festival Hall. So far, so good.
I don’t want to sound like David Churl, but I must mention a couple of quibbles. First, the lighting was way, way too intrusive: throughout the show, it razzled and dazzled and flashed and flickered and strobed with increasing hyperactivity. It was as if the operators were hoping to compensate for the fact that we were simply watching five (sometimes six, with guest violinist/guitarist Luke Sutherland popping on and off) unassuming blokes in trendy casual garb standing or sitting in a democratic arrangement on a stage and playing their music studiously. In fact, this has its own inherent fascination, and it deserved something bolder and steadier.
Second, although the closing song “Batcat” reached a moment of crushing, brutal, exhilarating singularity, such moments were too rare; I expected a bit more shredding and thrashing and eye-bulging from the band who gave us albums with titles such as Come On Die Young. But then perhaps Mogwai are simply doing that unthinkable thing: not dying young, but getting a bit older, a bit more considered, levelling off those peaks and troughs.