Real rock music. That is what post-rock legends Mogwai delivered at the Crofoot Ballroom on an insanely hot evening in Metro Detroit. I have tried unsuccessfully a few times to see the Scottish five-piece, last year their Detroit show got cancelled, but thankfully they made it back to this area and I can finally cross them off my concert bucket list of bands I must see at least once in my lifetime. But after seeing them, they're now on my list of bands I must see anytime they play nearby.
Balam Acab opened the night. The electronic music project of Pennsylvania's Alec Koone seems an odd choice to open for the guitar onslaught of Mogwai, but strange bedfellows sometimes work out. Koone describes his music as ambient hip-hop and this is a pretty accurate title. A lot of swirling beauty overlaid with heavy bass and beats, the calm before the storm once Mogwai took to the stage.
Still touring behind last year's excellent "Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will", Mogwai took to the stage with that album's opener "White Noise". It would be one of five songs from the album they played along with "Death Rays", "San Pedro", "How To Be A Werewolf" and my personal favorite, "Mexican Grand Prix".
The more recent stuff was interspersed with some of the band's best known tracks, and some fan favorites, to make for a varied setlist and all the reviews I have read over the years of what a great live band Mogwai are were spot on. With Martin Bulloch pounding the drums, Dominic Aitchison holding down the bottom end on bass and the triple guitar attack of Stuart Braithwaite, John Cummings and Barry Burns, Mogwai deliver an unearthly wall of sound. What I love about their music is no matter how loud, and they can absolutely rip your eardrums out, there is always a beautiful melody inside. They can go from quiet, lovely passages to blow the roof off the venue noise levels in seconds, yet that melodic base is always there. It's not just noise for noise's sake.
Older material played in the main set went all the way back to their 1997 debut album with the mammoth "Mogwai Fear Satan" which closed the first set. "Stanley Kubrick" from 1999's "EP" also found its way in the set fairly early. 2003's "Happy Songs For Happy People" was represented by both "Stop Coming To My House" and "Hunted By A Freak". I was thrilled at the inclusion of the piano heavy slow burner "Auto Rock" from 2006's "Mr. Beast", from which they also played "Travel Is Dangerous", one of their rare vocal tracks. The great "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead" from 2008's "The Hawk Is Howling" was the second song of the set as well.
I was sad to see the setlist indicated the encore was supposed to start with another of my favorites from last year's album, "Rano Pano", but the band had some technical issues onstage and decided to change up the finale. But they more than made up for it with a searing version of "Like Herod" from their first album. "Batcat" closed the night out.
I was already excited beyond words to finally see Mogwai perform live and yet the show still exceeded my expectations. I saw fellow post-rock legends Explosions In The Sky for the first time last year and, although I enjoyed that show as well, Mogwai was the far superior concert. There are few things in life that leave me in awe like seeing musicians at the top of their craft deliver live and Mogwai are among the greatest guitar rock acts of our time. Their reputation as one of the loudest live bands working today has been personally verified, my ears are still ringing from this show. Absolute masters of their instruments and of post-rock.