Sublime perfection from the mighty Mogwai at Luglio Suona Bene 2014

Mogwai on stage in Rome at Luglio Suona Bene
When Mogwai first appeared on stage at dusk on Friday evening at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, there was initially only a slow ripple of applause. This quickly transformed into huge cheers as this most unassuming of bands picked up their instruments, and after a brief hello from Stuart Braithwaite, the electronic glockenspiel chimes from Heard About You Last Night, the opening track from their new album Rave Tapes, rang out in the open air Cavea. The hauntingly atmospheric Friend of the Night from Mr. Beast, and Take Me Somewhere Nice from the even earlier album Rock Action, with some rare, and achingly beautiful vocals from Braithwaite, followed. It was an exquisite, understated, yet instantly compelling start to what would turn out to be an utterly exhilarating, and very, very loud evening.

Ostensibly in Rome to promote Rave TapesMaster Card and Deesh also appeared on the setlist, as did the infectiously catchy Remurdered, which even sparked a brief bout of spontaneous clapping-along from the audience, provoking an amused smile from Braithwaite – the band also dug deep into their back catalogue of some nineteen years of recordings, and included gems such as Xmas Steps, with a mournful and hypnotic violin solo by fellow Scottish musician Luke Sutherland.

I last saw the Glasgow post-rock band during the Auditorium’s Luglio Suona Bene summer concert season back in 2009, and I attended that gig as a Mogwai neophyte. I left that concert five years ago as convert who has listened to their music ever since. Early on during Friday night’s concert – about halfway through the euphoric crescendo in How to be a Werewolf, in fact – I decided that they might also be one of my favourite ever live bands. Conventional rock groups take note: in a set comprised almost entirely of instrumental music, played for the most part at jet engine level decibels, there was a total absence of aggressive, macho posturing, instead consummate musicianship was the hallmark of this mesmerising performance. The sound mix was also extraordinarily good, even at the most deafening moments. Lead guitarist Stuart Braithwaite is probably as close as Mogwai come to having a front man of sorts, and between every song he would thank the audience with “Cheers!” or “Grazie mille! ...Thank you very much.” Seated up close on Braithwaite’s side of the stage, it was hard to take my eyes off this charismatic performer.

Dominic Aitchison and  Stuart Braithwaite on stage in Rome
 Ominous slow-burner Mogwai Fear Satan built up to its blistering crescendo to close the concert, but foot stomping and cheers brought Glasgow’s finest back out on stage for New Paths to Helicon, Pt. 1. The entire audience was on its feet and those of us in the parterre seating rushed the stage for this final encore – “Nice to see you all up so close...Hi!” joked Braithwaite, before thanking us for coming and blasting us with the immensity of Batcat. Rarely does such an eagerly anticipated event not only meet one’s expectations, but exceed them so completely. Sheer perfection.