Post-rockers Mogwai marked their first show in Sydney in over three years with a triumphant performance at the Sydney Opera House last week. The Scottish five-piece blew away the 5,000 odd Concert Hall crowd with a career spanning selection of tracks to mark their 20thanniversary.
When I discovered were playing at the Opera House I was surprised- how long had Sydney’s iconic venue been hosting alternative rock acts? I wished they’d announced a show in a smaller venue instead where tickets may have been cheaper. Nevertheless, I was sure to secure a seat towards the back of the Concert Hall.
Mogwai took to the stage just after 8pm and opened with the ominous opening chimes ofHeard About You Last Night. As with a lot of the material on last year’s album Rave Tapes, it has a cinematic style that worked so well on their 2013 soundtrack for French television series Les Revenants.
Their music is mostly instrumental and can change from loud and angry to quiet and plaintive in a matter of seconds. Although mostly guitar based it incorporates some electronic and classical elements and conveys a broad range of emotions.
As I listened to the delicate picking of Take Me Somewhere Nice I was instantly filled with remorse and regret. When I heard the optimistic guitar crescendo of How To Be A Werewolf I became overjoyed by my own existence. And three and a half minutes into I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead I felt as though I could be triumphantly flying through the solar system, laughing manically as I hurtle towards the sun.
Mogwai don’t waste a single note. Their music is so expressive it inspires crystal clear storylines in seconds.
The highlight of the night was a terrifying version of Christmas Steps, full of twisted time signatures carried by a panicked tempo. It started with John Cummings and Stuart Braithwaite’s gently caressed guitar, which gradually became quieter and quieter until almost silent. Audience members visibly jumped as the distorted thud of rhythm and bass guitar sabotaged the stillness, like a monster stepping out of the shadows.
Mogwai Fear Satan was another beautiful moment; 15 minutes of yearning melody and fuzzy distortion accompanied by Luke Sutherland’s shrill violin. Rano Pano followed; its rotating riff alone justifying the use of earplugs. ‘Turn it up!’ was the ironic shout from a crowd member.
Stuart Braithwaite expressed his thanks and remarked how ‘People back home had thought we were taking the piss when we said we were playing here, so thanks for being here to prove it happened!’ They continued with the bleak We’re No Here and Remurdered, full of awkward synth and krautrock style drum beats. After the band exited for the encore I wondered whether the Opera House staff were used to such raucous shouting and foot stomping from the audience.
They capped off a five star performance with some fan favourites during the encore including the delicate Hunted By A Freak and a ferocious version of Batcat which made me reverberate in my seat.
As I left the venue and rushed for a train I felt a wave of delight to have seen them at the Opera House of all places. Although the interior is and full of aged 1960s woodwork, the freaky Dutch contours allowed a really commanding view that slanted steeply downwards. This almost gave the impression of being out in the open; looking down from a dark night sky. Most importantly the sound travelled perfectly- the very reason why they chose the Opera House over a 1000 capacity club where the acoustics would’ve been duller.
Its magnificence both inside and out was a perfect match for Mogwai’s music. I hope it’s not a three year wait for them to grace Sydney’s famous landmark once more.