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Permanent Hearing Loss, Yours For Only $15: Mogwai Live at the Metro in Chicago 10.02.03

by paul jaissle

I should start out by saying I find concert reviews to be fairly useless. No amount of words will recreate for a reader the feeling of a live rock show: the stale cigarette haze, the overpriced beer, the crowded, sweltering venue, even the incessant ringing in the ears the next morning are all just as much a part of the experience as what songs were performed. Presenting a setlist and some humorous between song banter is not sufficient. Adjectives like 'good,' 'loud,' and 'tremendous' are miserably inadequate in this context. In fact, the most appropriate response to the question 'How was the show?' is simply 'It was Mogwai.' The only way to really get a feeling for the show is to invite a few hundred friends over, play Mogwai Fear Satan at an almost painful volume, and have a few dozen people yell 'Christmas Steps' during the quiet bits (that is unbelievably annoying: of course they're going to play "Christmas Steps"! But why would they play it three songs into the set? Obviously they'll save it for the end, jackasses). Oh, and turn the heat up really high.

So, Mogwai played Chicago and I was there to see it. I feel the need to explain that I live nowhere near Chicago, but based solely upon their performance I witnessed in Detroit two years ago the six-hour trek one must endure to reach the windy city seemed a perfectly reasonable price to pay in order witness everyone's favorite five man Scottish Guitarmy.

After two ultimately forgettable opening bands (the highlight of the first group's set was a man passing out at the front of the stage, perhaps due to boredom (but at least it was more interesting than the Boas, who are custom made to be fawned over by clueless hipsters and $9 New York fashion magazines).) and a ridiculously long stage set-up, the mighty 'gwai finally took the stage obviously with the sole intention of deafening the near capacity crowd. That goal was swiftly achieved with surprising efficiency and sheer volume.

Are Mogwai loud? Is the pope old? Three guitar players channeling apocalyptic visions through enough distortion to make death metal bands blush is surely a spectacle to witness: despite the almost certain long term affects it will have on future hearing (but c'mon, do you really need to hear that well when your're old anyway? The only problem it caused for Pete Townsend was an insatiable thirst for child pornography). But still, if you go see Mogwai, don't wear earplugs. You look silly, especially pulling them in and out in order to hear both the loud and soft moments which were in abundance this time. Mogawi did indeed bring the noize. Sticking to all instrumentals (last time they at least played "Cody" and "Take Me Somewhere Nice" so we could hear Stuart Braithwaite's lovely singing voice), the group unleashed an unholy fury one would only expect from a Mogwai that a careless soul fed after midnight.

Sorry I have no set list for you: I was not about to take notes during the show. I can tell you they opened with "Ithica" (I think) and played a number of tunes from this year's gorgeous Happy Songs for Happy People with Barry Burns manning an endless array of knobs as well as vocorder processed vocals. "Hunted By a Freak" was surprisingly beautiful live, and "Ratts of the Capital" was an obvious highlight, with its twin bass attack and screeching distortion. Unfortunately, nothing from EP=2 was performed (just once I would like to hear "Burn Girl Prom Queen" live) but "Mogwai Fear Satan" was, so I really can't complain too much. The traditional encore of "My Father My King" was forgone this time, which is just fine since the 15 minutes plus of feedback last time I saw them caused a rather troublesome four-day buzzing in my ears. Instead, we got a one-two punch of "Ex-Cowboy" and "Christmas Steps" (thanks to the random assholes who suggested they play that last one: they wouldn't have played it without you). Again, none of this really does justice to the performance. Only live can you appreciate the sheer brilliance of this band, as well as the awkward silences between songs when not a word is uttered to the crowd or the piercing stares of pure hatred Stuart Braithwaite emits while playing. The six hour drive is all worth it as we stumbled out into the cold Chicago night, our ear drums blown, exchanging knowing glances: we just saw the most brilliant band in the world.

Issue 16, October 2003

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