Mogwai, Austin Music Hall, Saturday, March 17

Live Shots: South by Southwest 2001

Mogwai

Austin Music Hall, Saturday, March 17

So maybe the Soft Boys reunion wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but at least there was room to breathe at the Music Hall's Matador showcase, unlike last week's claustrophobic Austin Music Awards. For those of us walking in to see Mogwai's Texas debut, it wasn't so sad to see the Soft Boys wrap up by 11pm, as that just meant less time for the Brits and more time for the Scots, who kicked off their scheduled 11:30pm set a few minutes early. With opener "Stanley Kubrick," Mogwai immediately claimed the Hall as their own, uncorking majestic spirals of sound so immense and powerful it verged on criminal. After the aforementioned cut off '99's EP+2, the five young Scottish lads unveiled a trio of dazzling songs off their upcoming Rock Action. "Take Me Somewhere Nice" found Stuart Braithwaite stepping up to the mike for an aching number that takes the Morricone-on-morphine aesthetic of Come on Die Young's "Cody" to new levels of melancholy splendor. "2 Rights Make One Wrong" wove a rich web of interlocking themes that sucked the crowd into a mighty vortex of volume. After that, things got a little more mellow with "Christmas Steps," which consisted of one slowly unfurling guitar line that was soon complemented by a second, Braithwaite and guitarist John Cummings deliberately plotting a route to parts unknown. Then Dominic Atchison's bass started to rumble, and before you knew it, a leaden riff emerged led by the bruising bassline. The overpowering sonic temple of distortion was back, and it threatened permanent damage to those of us foolhardy enough to be parked in the vicinity of the massive speakers. As "Christmas Steps" slowly dissipated, we were offered a brief respite, but it wouldn't last long. The Glaswegians were soon back in full force with the stunning "Jewish," an as-yet-unreleased Napster favorite that exists only as a live staple. The exotic fretwork lent a mysterious Middle Eastern tint, a striking mixture of awe and horror, like being surrounded by an armed brigade while standing on one of Christ's stations of the cross midway between the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall under the blazing-hot Jerusalem sun. At that point, Braithwaite went ballistic, lashing out at his guitar in spastic rage as the pulverizing volume reached new levels of insanity. It was almost hard to believe the ear-splitting fury didn't empty the club then and there, but there was absolutely no escape. This was Mogwai's ship, and they were the captains, blazing a path through the bloody eardrum and straight into the buzzing skull.

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