It has been too long since my last post, but finishing up a job whilst already starting another, and at the same time packing up to move country, has meant that time for anything else has been at a premium. Anyway, let me cast my mind back a few weeks to my last live music experience as a Londoner…

I’ve written about how Mogwai has been my most-seen band in a decade as a resident of this city, so it’s fitting that this crack battalion of the Scottish Guitar Army should see me out. The venue is the open-air grandeur of Somerset House, but with the summer-so-far having been crap even by English standards, there’s a fear that it’ll be a washout. Sure enough it rains all morning, but by midafternoon the clouds have parted and the weather holds… the gods obviously don’t hold Mogwai’s fear of Satan against them.

Mogwai live @ Somerset House (12-07-2007)

Mogwai open with the sequenced beats and soothing guitar & keyboard washes of “Superheroes Of BMX”, one of their earliest songs (released on the “4 Satin” EP in 1997) and a personal favourite. The sound is superb, particularly for an outdoor performance – it always is with Mogwai, and that is part of their enduring appeal: the dedication to quality that they seem to bring to everything that they do. Tonight’s show is billed as being “in Surround Sound” and sure enough there are speaker stacks suspended in the back corners of the Somerset House courtyard, the sound subtly mixed to take full advantage of this new development in live music ‘technology’.
The piano-led “Friend Of The Night” is appropriately followed by the mournful single-note piano line of “I Know You Are But What Am I?”, where Stuart Braithwaite downs guitar and spends the duration of the song on his knees manipulating his pedals, adding noise accents to the minimalist song. The band then click into rock action for “Ratts Of The Capital”, Barry Burns eventually leaving his banks of keyboards to pick up a bass guitar and give the song added low-end weight.

Mogwai live @ Somerset House (12-07-2007)

Despite the rifftasm of “Ratts…” this is proving to be one of the more restrained Mogwai performances I’ve witnessed, the pace slowed right back down for “7:25” (from the “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait” soundtrack, and the one song of the evening which I haven’t seen performed live before). The remainder of the set satisfyingly covers the breadth of Mogwai’s back catalogue , highlights being “R U Still In To It?” where ex-Arab Strap-er Aidan Moffat joins the band on vocals (and where the song’s closing notes intermingle with the chimes from the Somerset House clocktower) and old favourite “Ex-Cowboy”.

The stage is flanked by two large screens, and the band is scrutinised by three cameras throughout, providing an intimate stage-eye view of the goings-on. It seems strangely voyueristic observing up close the emotion written across the faces of Barry and Stuart as they deliver their respective vocals (it is clear that singing to an audience of thousands is still an uncomfortable thing for them to do), but the skillfully-edited footage provides a great new element to the Mogwai live experience. It is also worth mentioning the lightshow (something that Mogwai take particular pride in, from the early “spend all our gig earnings on mirror balls” ethos to the awesome Mogwai Young Team ‘logo’ lighting rig they unveiled at the Royal Albert Hall last year) – as the skies darken it really comes into its own against the already illuminated late-18th century architecture of Somerset House, and judicious use of strobes adds to the impact.

Mogwai live @ Somerset House (12-07-2007)

The set ends with the “Mr Beast” double-punch of “Glasgow Mega-Snake” and “We’re No Here”, the band eventually leaving the stage one by one to leave John Cummings alone creating swirling squalls of feedback in classic Mogwai set-closer stylee. The baying crowd brings them back for a two-song encore of “Cody” and “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” – I’ve by now moved from the front to wander around the back of the courtyard and take in the full effect of the surround sound, which is particularly effective on the closing part of “2 Rights…” as the programmed beats envelop the entire space. Thank you Mogwai, thank you London. Adiós.

Mogwai live @ Somerset House (12-07-2007)

Setlist: Mogwai @ Somerset House (12 July 2007)
Superheroes Of BMX
Friend Of The Night
I Know You Are But What Am I?
Ratts Of The Capital
Hunted By A Freak
R U Still In 2 It?
Travel Is Dangerous
Stop Coming To My House
Small Children In The Background
Glasgow Mega-Snake
We’re No Here
2 Rights Make 1 Wrong

Here is “Travel Is Dangerous”, recorded live at BBC Maida Vale studios on 31 January 2006 and broadcast as a BBC OneMusic live session.

Mogwai – Travel Is Dangerous (live BBC OneMusic session)