When the lists came in for the best records of the 00s, there was a rather distressing Mogwai shaped hole in them. I personally scratched around, trying to decide whether to include one or not, and in the end I gave in to the sneaking suspicion that whilst they’d made a number of really good records in that 10 year span, there wasn’t single outstanding document that seemed to sum up everything they stood for or were capable of. It was all the more maddening in a way that if there had been a best live band of the decade, they probably would have won hands down.
The Mogwai live experience is a thing of controlled violence and beauty – something that has evolved from years of playing shows and playing together to a near telepathic understanding of build and release. I’ve never felt so expertly corralled as at a Mogwai gig, that feeling of being led through a narrative of incrementally increased volume and dynamics to an ecstatic endpoint. They have become masters of their sound. Which only makes it all the more frustrating that this doesn’t seem to extend to the studio records – fine releases all, of course, and all containing tracks that have gradually become part of what is now a vast canon of tracks – but never quite scaling the heights… Well now, here comes Special Moves to put all that right.
The first thing you notice on listening to this is the clarity of the sound. As I said above the live Mogwai experience has always been a thing of exceptional control – it’s in how the manage the tumult and in how they manage the silences in between; it’s also about the simple mastery of volume and mixing. Well here, they sound as clear and pure as possible, with the opening track ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ coming on like a conflagration. And it doesn’t let up.
The sequencing of this particular show is split into something like three parts, each built like mini-epics. Each part has its moments of stillness, each its points of crescendo – and the depth of their catalogue is now such that they can place a track as mighty and epochal as ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ fourth in the setlist and not peak too early. There’s still ‘2 Rights Make 1 Wrong’ (which is a different version from the extraordinary bass-rapture of recent years, preferring a wall of distorted guitars instead), still the brutal lurch of ‘Like Herod’ and the closing stab in the guts that is ‘Glasgow Megasnake’. All those monuments aside you find yourself scanning the tracklisting for missing songs – no ‘Batcat’, no ‘Yes, I Am A Long Way From Home’ no ‘Kids Will Be Skeletons’, no side-long demolition of ‘My Father, My King’, a track which nearly split the great dome of the Albert Hall back in 2006. What all this points to is that a) this could easily have been a triple CD, and b) that you should really run out right now and get the triple vinyl version.
In some ways there’s something heartening and glorious that a band like Mogwai are still alive and still playing so many shows. They’re evidence that it can still be done the old way. And this is evidence, as if it ever needed saying, that they are a still a mighty live outfit. Long may they make make masonry crumble.