Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Celtic Connections: Mogwai and RM Hubbert

RM Hubbert and Mogwai, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. 28th Jan 2014. Live gig review.

Mogwai have been producing their guitar based, post-rock tunes for almost 20 years now and I've seen them play various venues in that time, including a gap site in Glasgow city centre last year. I hadn't ever really expected to watch them play in the civilised surroundings of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall though. However, there they were last night performing a sell-out show in the 2500 capacity hall as part of the annual Celtic Connections festival.

Despite the longevity of their career, they seem to be going from strength to strength and continue to produce new and interesting music. Perhaps they show that if you keep banging away at something you believe is good, eventually the rest of the world will catch on. Certainly their fabulous, unsettling soundtrack for the French television series The Returned/ Les Revenants has exposed a lot of new people to their music. That album also demonstrated the atmospheric, storytelling quality to some of their instrumental music. Their latest album, Rave Tapes, has given them their first ever entry in the top ten but has all the familiar elements of their quiet/loud music, with explosions of guitar noise mixing with more prominent keyboard sounds. Like a lot of their music, hearing the album is one thing but seeing it played lived is another thing altogether. That was one question I had about the concert tonight. How would their music cope in a big airy room designed for orchestral music rather than the dark, sweaty Barrowlands?

First up to test the acoustics of the building was RM Hubbert, winner of last year's Scottish Album of the Year award for Thirteen Lost & Found. Since then he has released Breaks & Bones filled with his Spanish guitar playing and also more singing from the man himself. I've seen him umpteen times before, but in smaller venues, intimate gigs where he talks away to his audience like a man at confession. He himself admitted to being a wee bit nervous playing on this broad stage, out their alone with his guitar ("I'm shite-ing myself" was the way he put it). However he soon got into his stride. His music carried to the back of the auditorium as well here as it does in smaller clubs, as did his self-deprecating humour. The set was as good as I've seen before, with a broader range of stuff from his three albums to call upon. Although Mogwai were the main draw, it was almost a shame when he announced his last song, with Aidan Moffat coming on to provide the vocals for "Car Song" as his finale.

The concert hall was set up as I've never seen it before. The stalls seating was all taken out at the front half of the ground floor, creating a large standing area, whilst we sat upstairs in the comfy seats. There were also lots of people standing behind the seated areas in the balconies. From the opening chords of Mogwai's set we had suddenly shifted from quiet plucked guitar strings and jokey chat, to full throated electronic guitar noise, an exaggerated example of the quiet/loud dynamic you would expect at a Mogwai gig. Set up as usual with no front man, a crescent around an empty front of stage, they launched into "Heard About You Last Night" from Rave Tapes. The new material worked so well on full volume here, the acoustics of the hall carrying every reverberating sound around the room. "Remurdered" stands out from the new stuff with its hints of techno keyboards building up and becoming more menacing as it goes on. Three tracks from "Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will" showed the high quality of their recent output, particularly "Rano Pano". A brief technical hitch brought the "Mexican Grand Prix" to a crashing halt, but a quick joke from Stuart Braithwaite as the marshal and they were off again. Always serious, but never po-faced.

They finished the encore with "Mogwai Fear Satan" which, even though I knew it was coming, made me jump out of my seat when it blasted into raucous life two thirds of the way through.

The volume was still up there with anything I've seen, but I didn't leave the gig with the tinnitus I sometimes have done with their shows. Maybe it was the venue, or my seat upstairs instead of standing in front of the amps, but I enjoyed being able listen to the more subtle bits in there. Also they are a fantastic live act and one I would encourage anyone to try and see.

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