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Published: 2010/09/07
by Ron Hart

Mogwai
Special Moves/Burning
Rock Action

The foolish decision to put Scottish gaze-core icons Mogwai on during the day at the 2009 All Points West festival suggests one reason why it didn’t return in 2010. What those promoters should have realized is that there is absolutely no other place to witness the full power of this group as a live entity than while they are shrouded in darkness, be it the night sky or the confines of a grimly dim club or venue. And this is exactly why this self-released CD/DVD package, both Mogwai’s first true officially released concert footage, is a must-own for longtime fans of this innovative and majestic act. Recorded and filmed over the course of a three date residency at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg whilst touring behind their last effort, 2008’s The Hawk is Howling, both the audio and video halves of this collection are essential to anyone who has ever seen the group perform on stage. Sure, you can argue the case that there are a ton of quality live recordings of Mogwai in concert on Archive.org. However, you certainly won’t find such crystal-clear and in-your-face versions of classic fare as “Mogwai Fear Satan”, “Cody” and “Like Herod” on even the finest soundboard tape available online (although one could argue the case for a couple of those Archive shows, particularly the September 13, 2008, stop at the Granada Theater in Dallas, which sounds like a slightly more superior performance in comparison to the Brooklyn dates used for this release, but I digress). Even the newer material like “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” and “Batcat” emerge from the shells of their slightly undercooked studio predecessors to manifest their true compositional power as future live staples in the years to come. Perhaps Mogwai should follow the lead of The Black Crowes and Richard Thompson and record their next full-length on tour.

As far as concert films go, directors Vincent Moon and Nathanaël Le Scouarnec used high contrast black & white, giving their footage a more dramatic feel than if they had done it in HD color, giving what could be construed by some as a rather unremarkable Mogwai show a more epic feeling. Same goes with the footage of the Music Hall of Williamsburg, which is as clunky and boring as its name implies, clearly harboring none of the scrappy charm of that space’s far superior predecessor, North Six. Through this pair’s collective lens, the Music Hall looks far more appealing than it really is; and, when coupled with the footage of the band walking around the city, gives the film a style not unlike Phil Joanou’s U2: Rattle and Hum (albeit by way of Jem Cohen’s Fugazi doc Instrument). Yet regardless of how one may feel about the venue where this movie was shot, Moon and Le Scouarnec perfectly capture the club room darkness within which Mogwai perform at their best—hidden in the shadows, stepping out into the light only to wage war with the atmospheric tension they built up on their guitars with a visceral ravenousness entirely unique to these Scottish lads. Regardless of whether they are playing something from Mr. Beast or Ten Rapid, the results are all equally affective at a Mogwai concert, which is exactly what Special Moves/Burning so accurately portrays, warts and all.

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