(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DVD (stream) review - Mogwai, Burning (2010)

I've been excited about the upcoming release for Mogwai's concert DVD, Burning. It's not due to come out until August 24, but yesterday there was a massive virtual screening of the DVD hosted by guitarist Stuart Braithwaite and director Vincent Moon. The stream was hosted at more than 50 sites, including AOL Spinner and Second Life. I dropped by the Daily Swarm to catch the screening and follow the twitter feed at the same time. Only getting to watch this once limits my ability to pick out all of the nuance, but this was a great show.

Mogwai plays intense prog rock/post rock (mostly) instrumental jams. Their sound is centered on fuzzed out electric guitar, but there's plenty of interesting keyboard work in there as well. They're less laid back than My Morning Jacket, but certainly, they are stylistic neighbors.

Burning is a concert DVD, but directors Vincent Moon and Nathanael Le Scouarnac had a unique approach. They avoided the documentary style of simply showing the performance. Instead, there are constant jump cuts between the musicians and members of the audience. This evokes the experience of being at a concert; we vicariously feel the excitement, watching someone really enjoy the song, then looking up at the stage to see what's happening next. By the time the video hits the closing song, Batcat, the camera jerks and loses focus. Lighting flashes bright then dark. It's no longer about showing the performance; it's about recreating the mental state.

In the interview section after the screening, Vincent Moon talked about his aesthetic. It was intentional to shoot this in black and white to lose some of the information and create a distance. Perversely, this rational distance is what breaks down the emotional reserve of watching a video, making the experience more immersive. They also kept Burning short (around 45 minutes or so) to maintain the level of excitement from a live show. "A full show doesn't have the same impact on video."

The songs were intense, with sharp dynamics. During Mogwai Fear Satan, the sound evolves into a hypnotic wall of guitar sound. Trippy, building into a trancelike ecstasy, the martial drums and melodic bass provide the only anchors. Then, it fades down, becoming introspective. Swells of notes spill over the top as the song strips away to its essentials. Lulled into peace, the booming return to the full ecstatic whirl of the peak is climactic.

The last song, Batcat, starts with a voiceover translation of a Mogwai show review: "Cause this music puts a human being in a trancelike state...". Then, the music rises through. The guitar plays a repeated lick with heavy fuzzed out sound. Dark and droning, it's post-rock with a metal twist. The guitars wail through the roller coaster ride. When it's finally over and the credits start, they play comments from the crowd: "It's like acid, but there's no comedown."

After the screening, there was an interview section with Braithwaite and Moon. Braithewaite's playful personality came through as they pulled questions from the twitter feed. "How loud is too loud? 140 dB", "What's your favorite song to play live? Mogwai Fear Satan because it's really easy"...

I'm really looking forward to seeing the DVD and listening to the accompanying CD, Special Moves. This is music that deserves and requires multiple listens to soak in. The Burning setlist was:
  • The Precipice
  • I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
  • Hunted By a Freak
  • Like Herod
  • New Paths to Helicon Part 1 (download here)
  • Mogwai Fear Satan
  • Scotland's Shame
  • Batcat
What to drink with this? It doesn't matter. I forgot to drink anything at all.

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