Mogwai Fills the House of Blues with Dreamy Sights and Sounds

Mogwai, House of Blues Chicago, December 2, 2017. Photo by Samantha Reyes

Xander Harris

Experimental electronic producer Xander Harris started the night off on a somber note, reflecting on last year’s Ghost Ship Warehouse tragedy, “…those were my friends. It’s a sad night and I might cry.” The one man act consisted mostly of him on keys occasionally throwing in some electronic pre-recorded beats. The mostly dark, downtempo experimental electronic sounds a lot like electronic outfit SURVIVE. Towards the end of his set, he left for a bit and while I wondered where he went, he returned to the stage to apologize for leaving the song to pee. “When you get older you can’t hold it and… my prostrate is the size of a pea. My favorite band is next. I’m not just saying that.” He ended with a new song and finished his set saying, “getting old sucks.” Overall, it was an interestingly dark and introspective set that I would enjoy seeing in a darker, smaller setting. Xander Harris kept it real and surprisingly light given the tone of his music and some of the subject matter covered.

Mogwai

As the sole photographer in the photo pit, and first-time audience member at a Mogwai show, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  After chatting with a few friendly fans who had traveled from Indiana and Kentucky, I was sure I was in for a pretty epic experience.  Scottish alt-rockers Mogwai returned to Chicago promoting their early autumn release Every Country’s Sun.   Nearly all of the band members spent a portion of the set sipping whiskey and/or beer between transition.  A couple of new-ish faces (drummer Cat Myers and guitarist/keyboardist/percussionist Alex Mackay) joined regulars Stuart Braithwaite (guitar/ bass/vocals), Dominic Aitchison (bass/guitar), and Barry Burns (guitar/bass/keyboards/synthesizer/flute/vocals).

Their set alternated between slow, chill instrumental with occasional vocal distortion to epic–but still soothing–hard rock.  Their gently glowing background alternated between shades of pink, blue, and green like flickering fish scales from children’s book The Rainbow Fish projected onto massive backdrops with the texture of paper lanterns.  This beautiful set, spanning 20 years of discography, transcended space and time.  Some of their more cosmic tunes left me floating between absolute, focused presence and absence of timing, enjoying the grand buildups without and regard or concept for how long a song must have lasted.  For a pretty chill set, the bass was surprisingly heavy as it shook the venue and our bodies, enveloping us in a comforting hug of sound and vibration.  The venue was the perfect size to house their grandiose sound, while maintaining an air of intimacy.  The combination of those seemingly opposite feelings is something difficult to pull off, but Mogwai does so successfully.  The left the crowd gently swaying in awe, basking in the pale pink light so perfectly matching their latest album’s artwork.  Mogwai is a definite must-see for fans of epically cinematic, mostly instrumental, and occasionally distorted sets.

Setlist

  • Hunted by a Freak
  • Brain Sweeties
  • Party in the Dark
  • Cody
  • I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
  • Two Rights Make One Wrong
  • Friend of the Night
  • Battered at a Scramble
  • Don’t Believe the Fife
  • Remurdered
  • Auto Rock
  • Old Poisons
  • Every Country’s Sun
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