On the Scene: Mogwai at Terminal 5, NYC
Photos by Laura Baker-Finch
New York City -- When I saw Mogwai at Coachella last month, the audience in attendance was dwarfed by the Gobi Tent above it and the crowd preemptively beginning to form for Pharrell at the neighboring Outdoor Theatre. Though, while the size of the crowd was small, the intensity at which its members ogled the stage was not matched by any other set I witnessed over the weekend. Coachella 2014 was marked as much by lamentations over the number of “casual fans” as it was its crazy special guests, but neither were present at Mogwai - and that’s what made it so great.
On my long subterraneanial journey to Terminal 5 Friday night (for non-NYC-locals, the venue seems to take an hour+ on a subway no matter your point of origin), I contemplated the small, dedicated crowd of Mogwai fans at Coachella and wondered how it would compare to the three-tiered, 3,000-capacity room awaiting me at Terminal 5. Would the space be filled with die-hards, silently but intently rocking to every riff and crescendo? Or would the higher-end cap of the venue lead to a higher ratio of casual fans in the crowd, talking about their weeks by the bar, and using Mogwai simply as a soundtrack?
It didn’t take longer than half the opening song (“Heard About You Last Night”) to realize the former scenario was the case. There were pockets in the crowd cheering and throwing their signs of the horns up, but, for the most part, the crowd was a smooth sea of subtle head bangs in which you could see faces light up and look up as favorite songs and specific sections were played and appreciated.
The up-to 6 members on stage knew exactly what they were doing. The quality was as impeccable as the records and the volume (my ears were ringing even with earplugs) matched with the timed-to-a-tee light show fully immursed the crowd in the nearly 2-hour set. The immersion wasn’t even broken as the break midway through "Mogwai Fear Satan" was extended, causing the entire oscillating crowd to jump as the tempo (and volume) picked back up bars later than expected.
Overall, the experience was chilling (the shivers up my spine returned as I wrote this review and edited the photos). The musical choices ran the gambit from 1997's Young Team ("Mogwai Fear Satan") and 1999's Come on Die Young ("Ex-Cowboy") to this year's expansive, discreetly aggressive Rave Tapes ("Heard About You Last Night," "Remurdered," "Master Card," "Deesh"). Though the chosen tracks spanned 17 years, they all worked together to foster the realm Mogwai pulls its listeners into, granting them a place to transcend the venue or bedroom in which they listen to meditate on the masterfully crafted, evolving narrative their arrangements weave. I'd break down the 15-song set piece by piece for those not in attendance, but no one wants to read 15 different recaps that incorporate synonyms for perfect.
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