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When their time came, Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power planted themselves at opposite ends of a set of tables, the tops of which were loaded down with all manner of gadgets, most of the kind that could barely be considered instruments. Plugging in laptops, tiny keyboards, Game Boys and Playskool tape recorders, Fuck Buttons employ a truly unique arsenal of sounds. The Bristol duo's set was one long, ambient tribal groove, interrupted often with war drums and screams distorted with toys. Fuck Buttons, who have long been championed by online independent media cites, are the spurned offspring of Animal Collective and Ratatat, hiding in hoodies and dismantling pop structure. For the forty-five minutes they played, there was no pause; only a weighty sound building slowly and constantly, and emphasized intermittently with roaring synth waves.
|Fuck Buttons (photos by Beth Gratzer)|
Although their set was innovative and fresh, I wondered whether or not Fuck Buttons were truly in Mogwai's service as an opening act. Considering that the night's headliners renown for their extended instrumental pieces, there is questionable logic behind recruiting an opening act that encourages as much patience and perseverance as the hungry UK duo of Fuck Buttons did. Maybe it was asking too much to have the post-rock giants coupled with some rising garage metal group; but when dealing with one of the most important bands on the planet, as myself and many journalists (and, apparently, My Bloody Valentine as well) consider Mogwai to be, fantasy is easy to entertain.
The Scottish Guitar Army of Mogwai arrived on stage like soldiers, uniformed all in black, and immediately charged into new material from their forthcoming Matador release, Hawk is Howling. As a longstanding follower of the group, I'm aware that it can sometimes take years for their songs to flower into maturity in a live setting. Mogwai themselves noted that it took them almost four years to perform a version of "Mogwai Fear Satan" live that did the song justice, and "Helicon 1" didn't fulfill its true potential until the group's 1999 BBC Session for Steve Lamacq, included on 2005's stellar Government Commissions. This trend might explain why the majority of the group's new material sounded somewhat naked in comparison to their established songs. Not only did "The Precipice," the show's opener, fail to inspire the wonder of typical openers like "Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home" or "Kids Will Be Skeletons," but it seemed almost rushed through in order to reach safer, more dialed material.
I've heard it said that Mogwai have become a Grateful Dead for the independent crowd, and if Thursday night's show demonstrated anything, it showed a group approaching the status of an institution, firmly entrenched in their comfort zone. When it comes to their Young Team to Rock Action material, Mogwai have become a triumphant and awe-inspiring machine in the live arena; on Thursday night "Mogwai Fear Satan" sounded like the Greatest Song of All Time contender that it is, "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" beautifully bridged the gap between elegance and punishing might, and "Helicon 1" was as transcendent and timeless as ever.
It was in their more recent material, from Mr. Beast onward, that Mogwai occasionally fell into sounding and looking jaded. Perhaps it comes with the territory of performing notoriously long and complex pieces that require untold concentration, but it was rare to see the band looking genuinely excited while playing anything released after 2001. The notable exception was the night's closing suite of "Like Herod" into the new metal classic "Batcat," the title track of their recently released EP. If anyone in attendance was wondering who it was that shouted "Oh shit!" when the sinister bass riff that opens "Herod" rang out, you can stop speculating - it was me. The power of the tracks, two sonic behemoths paired together, was capable of leveling cities, and the band stood together in solidarity and exuberance in delivering them. Refusing the encore the audience feverishly demanded, Scotland's finest concluded the night, like true rock stars, leaving the audience stunned and begging for more.
Despite occasional lulls with the newer material, New York City felt a little closer to the utter chaos of decades past under the occupation of Mogwai. Even if, as some lament, their most innovative days are behind them, when assembled on a stage the group can deliver some of the finest music ever written, and they will no doubt continue to do so until the unfortunate day when the Scottish Guitar Army hangs up its weapons.
SEE ALSO: www.fuckbuttons.co.uk
SEE ALSO: www.terminal5nyc.com
SEE ALSO: www.beggars.com
SEE ALSO: www.piasrecordings.com
Introduced to music in the womb with a pair of headphones on his mother's stomach, Dave Toropov has yet to recover the experience. A writer based in Boston and New York, he has also written for Prefix Magazine and What Was It Anyway, and is the maintainer of the "Middleclass Haunt" blog.
See other articles by Dave Toropov.
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