MOGWAI / DEAD MEADOW / WOLVES! (OF GREECE), 24TH MARCH 2004, ROCK CITY
Peel-endorsed five piece Wolves! (Of Greece) are a very odd bunch. Before they actually start, the singer looks like he might give Graham Coxon a run for his money in the agoraphobic stakes and, as my fellow gig attendee says, "You'd quite happily go up to any of them believing they'd know the way to the bus station". Last time I saw them, supporting Fugazi in October 2002, I described them as "a sheer spastic noise attack with a schizophrenic Roddy Woomble-alike on vocals and a fundamental and alarming disregard for any conventional notions of structure or rhythm that makes Shellac and Les Savy Fav's The Cat And The Cobra sound like easy listening". Well, little's changed.
Needless to say, they don't play any ballads, and what they do play are less like songs and more like pieces of shrapnel that are flung out from the stage and stick in your head. Just when you think that each band member is playing something completely independent of the others, they all stop in unison at precisely the same moment, before setting off once again on their own seemingly random trajectories. I'd love to know who they listen to to sound like this. They've got a new 10" EP / mini album out on Nottingham's Gringo Records - whether they make any more sense on vinyl than they do live is anyone's guess. Perhaps, though, there isn't supposed to be any method to their madness - senseless music for a senseless world. However, the question of whether they're actually any good is one which, three sightings later, I'm still not really any nearer to answering.
Dead Meadow also look a bit odd. Two nervy-looking black-haired post-hardcore types, a second guitarist (not a full-time member of the band?) who looks like a cross between a chimp and Andy Macdonald of 'Coronation Street' and a drummer with the sort of 'tache that wouldn't be out of place on a Midwest ranch-hand or in the original 'Starsky & Hutch' series. Their music might have come as a bit of a surprise, had I not heard about them beforehand - it's a somnambulant take on Black Sabbath, conjuring up psychedelic images amidst a fug of smoke. Mogwai's crowd might be a lot more forgiving than most, but even they are starting to grow restless towards the end of an opening song which lasts more than ten minutes and shifts through various subtle shades without ever igniting. There's only time for another three after that, for which the riffs seem progressively less doped up and more potent and Iommi-esque. Another intriguing Mogwai support act, then, to add to the names of Ligament, Sophia and Bardo Pond on the growing list of bands I've been tempted into checking out at least partially as a result of their patronage.
The fact that Stuart Braithwaite has a glass of red wine in his hand when his band take to the stage is not a good sign. I feel like shouting "WINE?!! In a GLASS?!! What happened to drinking straight out of the bottle?!! You'll be sitting on stools and playing concert halls next!", but mercifully I restrain myself and any fears that the Glaswegian geniuses are growing old far too gracefully are duly dispelled over the course of the next hour and a half. 'Superheroes Of BMX' opens the set, an unexpected but very welcome surprise, followed by 'Hunted By A Freak' - perhaps as near as Mogwai have ever come to a conventional verse-chorus-verse structure but it's so fucking beautiful that you'd feel dirty to berate them for it. (And, anyway, they seem to have acknowledged with Happy Songs... that the real challenge is to do their "thang" within the stricter confines of a broadly traditional song structure without compromise - something that, like Sonic Youth and ... Trail Of Dead on their last albums, they manage with glorious results.)
They move through the set effortlessly - 'You Don't Know Jesus', 'Xmas Steps', , 'Killing All The Flies', 'Summer', 'I Know You Are But What Am I?' - and the crowd sway their heads like a field of corn in the wind, lapping it all up. 'Cody' is a real treat (why, on this evidence, is Stuart at all embarrassed about his vocals?!), and the only irritation isn't attributable to the band - yes, it's that familiar problem of those gig-going socialites stood at the back whose inane chatter and guffaws creep up through the cracks of silence in the songs to bug the shit out of me and all those around me.
The main set comes to an end with the keyboard scree of '2 Rights Make One Wrong', but they're not offstage for long, just long enough for Stuart to top up his wine glass. 'Sine Wave' gets the encore off to an inauspicious start, Martin losing track of his drum line amidst the industrial crunch, but the rising guitar riff and gently skipping drums of 'Mogwai Fear Satan' are on hand to make immediate amends. As ever it packs a mighty wallop, but the surprise is that, as in Birmingham last October, it doesn't close the show. That honour falls to 'Ratts Of The Capital', on this occasion a sinuous, shrieking beast that is so stunningly heavy it threatens to burst your eyeballs. For a moment, after about five minutes of powerchord barrage, I'm tempted to put my hands to my ears, but then just in time I stop myself - that would be to concede defeat to the sinister forces of old age and reason...
So, no 'Take Me Somewhere Nice', no 'Like Herod', no 'My Father My King' - but then to complain about the omissions would be ungrateful and detract from what we did get. What Mogwai have gained in grace and songwriting skill over the years, they patently haven't sacrificed in power or extremity. I may be edging towards my late 20s, but there's still something special in feeling physically brutalised by music.