Mogwai – Brighton Dome – 25th November 2018

Photo by Anna Claxton

Brighton’s The Academy of Sun were surely born to play this gig. Theatrical, meaningful and shambolically dramatic, TAOS are led by a tall creature called Nick Hudson, who magnificently snarls his way through a set that is much more illustrious than might be expected for a Sunday night from a first support act. Self-labelled, “Queer, gnostic post-punk”, the group bow to Nick Cave and Morrissey on some tracks and it is fairly obvious why Julian Cope is counted as one of their admirers on others. Part crooner, part diva, for all of his influences, Hudson is entirely unique as a frontman, which makes TAOS a band to be intrigued by on the local scene and, given the waves they appear to be making, further afield.

The Twilight Sad have another strapping man-mountain of a lead singer in James Graham, though his presence could not be more different to Hudson’s whimsical waving and posturing. Apparently fighting an internal battle, he jerks around the stage and even hits himself in the head in an angry, sometimes disturbing, but completely fascinating performance. “Testosterone”, he says, offering no other explanation. Graham makes an interesting frontman because of his raw energy, which completely suits the band’s opposing themes of angst and catharsis. It’s a good guess that they are on the bill because they are now signed to Mogwai’s Rock Action Records and the coupling is a stroke of genius. The Twilight Sad are the perfectly dysfunctional younger sibling to their headliner as they continue tonight’s variety show of rock/synth anthems, demonstrating why they have had a career of over a decade already. The standout moment of their set is definitely recent single ‘I/m Not Here (Missing Face)’, with its driving percussion and melodic hint of electronica, beautifully showing off Graham’s neurotic twin-personality, which belts out a tune one minute and withdraws the next, leaving the audience never quite sure what he will do next. Their new release, It Won/t Be Like This All The Time, is out in January 2019 and promises to be rather exciting if this evening is anything to go by. After all, surely it’s got to mean something that The Twilight Sad are one of Robert Smith’s “favourite bands”.

If TTS are here to deliver a musical smack round the face, then fellow Glaswegians, Mogwai, are here to take emotional to a whole new level. Beginning with an ascending, triumphant ‘Every Country’s Sun’, the gigantic lighting stacks behind them initially give out a soft, womb-like glow and a gentle, incredible feeling of peace and wonderment spreads over the room. It is no surprise really that they are so accomplished, given that they have also been around since the mid-90s. Subtle master manipulators of noise and behemoths of the shoegaze movement, Mogwai have influenced a swathe of artists thanks to their moody, atmospheric tour de force and adeptness at creating a massive sound from what is really quite simple technology by today’s standards. Their body of work speaks for them. There is little other communication, which creates a weird ambience; quite an amazing feeling of being completely unaware of oneself or anything else going on. The pretension and mundaneness of everyday life is gone and the Dome is left transfixed by these men with soaring guitars, spooky synths, a powerhouse of a rhythm section, and the occasional bleep from an effects pedal.

With this in mind, the best word to encapsulate watching their live show is absorbent. It might seem a little contrived or even a little cult-like but Mogwai are the sun and we are bathing in their energy. Playing many of their recent compositions for film and TV, tonight focusses on the paradox that they are – the anti-band who appear to have scarce connection with each other or those watching them, and the musician’s musicians who are here to inspire and impress. Whether it is the soundtrack to an apocalypse or dead people returning to life, or to a grand festival experience, Mogwai prove that they have the talent to do it all, even breaking the instrumental spell with some vocal action in ‘We’re Not Done (End Title)’. During the desolation of old favourites like ‘I Know You Are But What Am I?’, and the brand new ‘Hunted By A Freak’, minds are collectively obliterated in a hard hit of creativity. After all, Mogwai are of a certain era and have clearly stood against the pressure of reinvention just enough to keep them current and still firmly in their fan’s hearts. Superb.

Anna Claxton