Pretentious Scots aren’t as pretentious as we heard

By Sarah Sung

Mogwai has always made a point of expressing their contempt for Brit-Pop. If you’ve ever seen the shirts that read “Blur: are shite” and not known who was responsible, now you know it’s Mogwai; these post-rock Scots claimed that they could scientifically prove that Blur are shite. Whatever. If you’re stupid enough to want one of those shirts, you can visit their official website, where front man Stuart Braithwaite’s most recent message to the public suggests that Sting should drink cyanide and asks “all the religious psychopaths” to discontinue writing to the band. Instead, he proposes that fans should “Try Sigur Ros—I hear they’re into that kind of thing.” Their unabashed hatred for Brit-pop and Sting (among many, many other things) goes along with their proclivity for activism and the fact that they seem to think they’re punk rock.

When I heard Mogwai was playing the Fireside Bowl, I thought it was even more facetious than the idea that they’re punk. The bowling alley-turned-venue very rarely sells tickets in advance, and is known typically for its all-ages punk shows. The ceiling, which is extensively discolored, seems like it’ll cave in at any moment, and if you’re not in the front few rows of people, you can pretty much assume you’ll only be hearing, not seeing, the show. It’s always oversold, with people packed in like sardines, and it smells like greasy hair. Mogwai must have carefully selected the venue in order to uphold their punk credo; they should know that despite their skewed philosophy, they’ve built up more than a significant enough amount of cred and fame within the indie music community that they should play a more substantial venue. It was definitely no surprise that the show sold out before many people even knew they were on sale, leaving many fans stranded outside, hoping to buy a spare ticket outside before the show.

For some reason, I wasn’t anticipating that the show would be very good even though deep down, I knew it was an uneducated prediction. I’ve always written Mogwai off because I find their persona extremely pretentious, and to be honest, I only own Young Team. Though I dearly love the one album I own, I just assumed they wouldn’t be able to live up to all the shit they’ve stirred up over the past several years of the band’s existence, especially since the critical opinion of the band’s recent albums has been meager. I expected it to be a series of highs and lows similar to Godspeed You Black Emperor! Shows—exciting and neat at first but you just want to go home and rest your feet by the end of the show. Like GYBE!, Mogwai’s music is particularly prone to having that effect, with its screeching, sudden climaxes and quiet, hushed anti-climaxes.

Mogwai managed to pull off a startlingly excellent show, maneuvering between climaxes in a way that kept the entire show interesting—a difficult endeavor for any post-rock band. During “Yes! I am a Long Way from Home,” the first track and one of my favorite from Young Team, I knew there were going to be loud, abrupt bursts of guitar; however, I was still completely unprepared for the earsplitting guitar that punched me between the eyes and left me dumbfounded. Some of the newer tracks, which I am much less familiar with, weren’t quite as exciting, which makes sense since their more recent albums are very much less acclaimed. After the show, I wasn’t any more inclined to purchase the other albums, but I was grateful to have the opportunity to see Mogwai live; they proved me wrong in that they’re an outstanding band with more-than-adequate musical skill, despite their annoying and stupid sense of punk rock activism.