Friday night and the Esplanade Concert Hall was set into a quiet buzz as some 800 teens and young adults slowly made their way into the venue, gathered for one reason.
Though one could sense an air of anticipation, the noise level never rose beyond that of a soft murmur.
How ironic then that such a quiet lead up was to precede what was possibly the loudest gig ever staged at the Esplanade Concert Hall.
The group responsible for creating such decibel pushing sonic madness?
Yes, the godfathers of post-rock were here on Jan 23 to hold their second concert here since their last performance on our sunny shores back in 2006.
Getting it all right
Though the critically acclaimed Scottish band has enjoyed over a decade of success shaping the post-rock genre, there was no air of pretentiousness or arrogance to be found as they appeared on stage.
Decked in a casual mix of t-shirt and jeans, the band wasted little time in getting down to business, kicking things off with “The Precipice”.
The track, taken off their latest album The Hawk Is Howling, started off dark and looming. The blanket of intense blue lighting shone onto the stage only served to enhance the ominous mood.
Then in true Mogwai style, the song grew into an impenetrable wall of loud distorted guitar riffs and pounding drums, setting the pace well for the rest of the night’s affairs.
A resounding round of applause, cheers and an erratic “Oh my God” exclamation greeted the end of the 7-minute opener.
The band had clearly got off to a good start.
Keeping it going
Mogwai kept things moving by going on to play a string of past hits and new works including “Friend Of The Night” (Mr Beast), “Scotland’s Shame” (The Hawk Is Howling), “Cody” (Come On Die Young), “I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School” (The Hawk Is Howling), and the crowd favourite “Hunted By A Freak” (Happy Songs For Happy People).
“Best song of the concert? Definitely when they played ‘Hunted By A Freak’,” said Stefan Marc Kozma, 18, a photographer who was visibly euphoric after having his electric bass guitar to be autographed by members of the band.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Colin Cheng, 19, NSF who had missed Mogwai’s previous outing here but were one of the lucky few to snag signed copies of the night’s set list.
“Sure, I really enjoyed the concert. The best part for me was when they performed ‘Hunted By A Freak’,” said Colin.
A dose of reflection
The night then proceeded with “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” (The Hawk Is Howling), “Ex-Cowboy” (Come On Die Young) and the “New Paths To Helicon Pt.1” (Ten Rapid).
Watching the band perform “New Paths To Helicon Pt.1” and having the entire hall engulfed in its enigmatic, ethereal sounds was a particularly moving experience.
The beautiful and intricate melody carried throughout the entire track provided that emotive, reflective and comforting edge, which I found myself lost and indulging in.
Christopher David Ross Murphy, 17, student, also appreciates this quality of Mogwai’s music.
“What I love about their music is that it so drags you in so easy. It creates emotions and makes you feel. In the end, their work is much less of a song but more of a feeling,” explained Christopher.
Similarly Muhammad Heider Bin Ismail, 20, student, likes how the band’s handles various elements in their songs.
“I really got into their music when I was in secondary 3. I like how they’ve got the dark vibe and know how to handle it without it going overboard. They call themselves ‘Scotland’s Shame’ but they are really ‘Scotland’s Pride’ instead,” said Muhammad Heider.
End of the night
With things coming to an end, the band neatly wrapped up the concert with “Thank You Space Expert” (The Hawk Is Howling) and the intense “We’re No Here” (Mr Beast).
The last number was certainly a worthy climax to end the show with. It’s heavy and epic instrumentation created impression of being trapped in a fierce wind tunnel from which there was no escape.
The awe-inspiring experience left many on their feet in a standing ovation as the band left the stage to a backdrop of diminishing distorted guitar sounds pulsing and fizzling out slowly over the large amplifiers.
But the crowd hadn’t had enough – much of the entire audience was in unison chanting, “We want more”.
Finally after a persistent wave of claps and ecstatic howls lasting several minutes, the quintet took to the stage once more, much to the joy of the crowd.
Mogwai revisited their first album Young Team by playing “Like Herod”, which was cleverly segued into “Batcat” – their hit song off the band’s newest album The Hawk Is Howling (whether this had any metaphorical connotations, only the band would know)
The latter is a masculine track with an antagonising vibe that incorporated multiple elements of heavy metal instrumentation. The band was clearly in their element as they performed the brash, loud and bold track to perfection.
When the 5-minute monster ended, the crowd reciprocated the band’s great energy with much fervour in cheering; most had their hands raised above their heads clapping in sheer amazement.
Photos by Eden Cai / KittyWu Records
On the concert’s volume levels:
“Deafening, just deafening,”
– Raymie Rashid, 23, a soundman by profession who was seated at the rear of the Esplanade Concert Hall.
On what else was lacking in the concert:
“It was too short. If I had my way, Mogwai would play 3 hours straight, and that’s not including an encore mind you.”
– Diana Bte Abd Rauin, 16, student
Praise for the night’s lighting effects:
“I really loved the lighting. That, combined with the music the band was playing, really helped to create the mood and atmosphere.”
– Madrim Djody, 20, a student who ranks Mogwai as one of her top 5 favourite post-rock bands
On why you attended the concert:
“I don’t really know a lot about Mogwai’s music but hey, I’ve got to come pay the band some due respect for being pioneers of the genre.”
– Foo Say Keong, 33, a graphic designer who is a fan of the post-rock genre
“ I got to know Mogwai’s music for only about less than a year but I chose to came because their music is different. The way they play is unique and I like that about them.”
– Hazwan, 19, student
On how this concert differed from the previous one in 2006:
“They played better this time around. They were more intense and tighter in their performance today. The audience was also more into the gig this time around”
– Muhammad Heider
Songs you wished Mogwai had played:
“Kids Will Be Skeletons.”
– Foo Say Keong
“Helicon Pt. II”
– Colin Cheng
– Stefan Marc Kozma and Christopher David Ross Murphy