Mogwai reimagined rock when they took over Melbourne

Mogwai are to rock as a sculpture made from auto parts is to a car. 

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Image source: 
Sky Kirkham

Their expansive aural style, owing as much to Steve Reich as Sonic Youth, seemed perfectly suited to the eerie blue twilight of the Forum.

After opener DJ Rings Around Saturn, Mogwai walked onstage with minimal ceremony. Guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite sported a Black Sabbath tee, and guitarist Dominic Aitchison, in a denim jacket and baseball cap, seemed to dare the audience to doubt his regular guy-ness. The band opened with ‘Hunted by a Freak’, a ringing, ethereal track from the early noughties. Keyboardist Barry Burns contributed shuddering, indecipherably processed vocals from the seat of his synthesiser, strengthening the séance atmosphere.

Next came ‘Crossing the Road Material’ from 2017’s Every Country’s Sun, starting out with cool, glassy guitar riffs before bursting into an ear-shattering cataract of sound that had the crowd swaying. Much of Mogwai’s oeuvre is less about rocking out than about exposing normally hidden textures and mechanics to contemplation. Some of the audience danced and some just leant against the pit railing, chins cupped in hand.

Braithwaite’s inter-track banter was generally limited to four words – “Thank you very much” – and, during play, the band seemed sunken too deep into their private musical raptures to acknowledge the audience. Aitchison, in particular, seemed completely oblivious to the 2,000 Melburnians who had come to see him perform. It was clear Mogwai wanted the audience to engage with the sound and not with them personally.

This refusal to reach out to the audience created a few uncomfortable moments during which inaudible side-conversations broke out among the band. On the other hand, it was a relief to be spared the customary frontman’s attempt to convince the audience that he believed [insert city name here] to be truly the most rocking-est city ever.

The real hero of the evening was drummer Cat Myers, just along for the tour, who lashed away at the skins with the sincerity of a religious flagellant. Sweating like a racehorse, Myers’s fervency and precision didn’t seem to decline at all across a two-hour set that demanded energetic drum work on almost every track.

Newbie guitarist Alex Mackay, appearing about 30 years younger than the rest of the band, also delivered some notable moments, taking centre stage during ‘Auto Rock’ while a bank of scarlet strobes illuminated the fog like the fires of hell.

Sailing across a mosaic of old and new material, Mogwai built to a peak with ‘Old Poisons’, a weighty, percussive piece that blasted its train-piston beat across the Forum at gizzard-rupturing volumes. Walking offstage with a polite wave, the band reemerged beer-in-hand for a double encore with ‘Remurdered’, cinematic piece with overtones of synthwave, and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, a crescendo-ing 12-minute jam that left the Forum head-bopping.

Highlight: Drummer Cat Myers bashing away at the kit.

Lowlight: Little interaction ensured such a large venue felt huge.

Crowd favourite: ‘Crossing the Road Material’.