In true Euro fashion, everyone was smoking.
Instrumental shoegaze, excellent sound, a good Euro club: Mogwai in Rome was a delicious, delicately-distorted sound bath. After a long scooter ride past old Mussolini-built complexes and residential areas – Atlantico delivered the Italian-chill live venue experience I was looking for. The only real downside: my hair is still caked in cigarette smoke – a European norm I haven’t yet adjusted to.
Mogwai has been releasing soundtrack-esque, spacious albums since the late ‘90s. With an eclectic name and even more underground inspiration, the Scottish shoegaze four-piece is named after the fuzzy creatures in the 1984 cinematic masterpiece, “Gremlins.” Primarily an instrumental band, their style can be explained by influences like math rock forefathers, Slint.
What stuck out most live was the simplicity of the instrumentation. Often, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite would revolve around just one or two chords, building it up slowly and cautiously. Alternating between grand controlled feedback and the softest, cleanest guitar plucking, Mogwai was captivating. Their 2021 release, “As the Love Continues,” which they primarily pulled from for the show, is anthemic, with delicious electronic bites and, as always, superb dynamic shifts. My personal favorite off the album, “Dry Fantasy,” was every bit as good as the first time I heard it – Mogwai brings next-level musicianship. Mixing in a few fan favorites like “Friend of the Night,” their set was well balanced and full of persuasive melodies to cling onto.
However, the band played a rather short set, despite their tendency to write lengthy songs. I was definitely expecting 3+ hours of Mogwai but was left wanting more. Their stage presence was definitely lacking. The band clearly put the music first; honoring the shoegaze namesake by standing in one place and watching their pedals. An unexpected, but probably should have been anticipated, downside of Mogwai was their struggle to sing even simple lines. Yet, the music was so good, I won’t hold it against them.
Mogwai’s live shows are truly closer to sound baths, or some crazy futuristic sonic experience, with the occasional distortion rave-up. Expect a crowd full of dudes who lose their minds over guitar feedback and a whole bunch of pretty Jazzmasters. I recommend seeing them with no expectations and going in cold – look up the setlist later and enjoy!