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

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Concert review - Mogwai with Errors

2 May 2011 (Bluebird Theater, Denver CO)

A fresh spring evening and a sold out show at the Bluebird, both were signs of the great night ahead. The diverse crowd had an anticipatory vibration as we all filed in and claimed our spaces. Typical for the Bluebird, it was a early start, with no local opening act.

Errors has strong ties to Mogwai. The Glaswegian quartet is signed to Mogwai's in-house label, Rock Action Records. They've opened for Mogwai numerous times in the last couple of years. This tour is special because their drummer, James Hamilton, is working double duty to play Mogwai's set as well to cover for Martin Bulloch's absence.

Both bands focus primarily on instrumental music, but there's not much overlap. Errors sound is rooted in heavily processed electronic loops and riffs. I've seen them described as "post electro", but I'm not sure what makes this "post". The songs are centered on keyboards and synths, accompanied by a hard driving live drum beat. Thick layers of intricate synth elements, sequenced and full of echo, form the foundation of their songs. The guitars primarily add texture. Oftentimes, they're as mutated through effects as the synthesizers.

Their setup was extensive, multiple synths and keys, a Macbook, a couple of guitars, a full drum kit, and countless stomp boxes (including several mounted on one of the keyboards). The playing was competent, but the guys' stage presence seemed shy and inexperienced. Stephen Livingstone did all the talking for the band, showing a little wry humor and sharing his amazement at Denver's famed Casa Bonita. James Hamilton, as befits the drummer, was the most active as he warmed up for his second set.

Errors' live version of their recent song, Magna Encarta, sounded like modern electro with classic synth pop aspirations. My favorite song was their psychedelic groove on Beards. It wasn't clear how much of the song was sequenced ahead of time, but the bass guitar and meandering guitars put those questions on the back burner.

The set closed out on a great electro jam with grinding bass and hard drumming. The headiness of this last song was a good send off to whet our appetites for Mogwai.

This tour has already faced a number of challenges. Visa problems led to canceling the first five dates and, as mentioned above, Martin Bulloch had to back out because of family issues. Mogwai doesn't seem like the easiest band to substitute for, but the Errors' James Hamilton did a great job covering for Bulloch. I'd have rather seen Mogwai complete, but Hamilton fit in smoothly.

Much of the setlist covered their recent album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (review here). Even though some old fans decried Hardcore's shift away from the cathartic wall of noise that Mogwai has embraced in the past, the band showed how intense these new songs could be.

The set started off with White Noise, the opening track of the album. This song is a great example of how Mogwai can create a sense of space and openness. On Hardcore, the song is reflective and meditative with a mild underlying glitch of distorted guitar, unfolding into rich detail. Live, the band used the more powerful stage volume to build the song into a consuming swirl of sound.

Later, I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead started off with a deliberate momentum that felt inevitable as it evolved. Like good classical music, it was structured but not stiff. There's a breathing flow that underlies the various motifs that may not be strictly improvised, but it's alive. It's emotionally evocative and raw all at once.

The encore led off with Auto Rock, which reiterated the same melodic hook, building in intensity. The progression was inescapable and obsessive, ratcheting up until it became a crashing wave of sound to strip us bare. Mogwai's music eroded our defensive protective shell, leaving our nerves exposed and overstimulated. This is what we came for.

More photos on my Flickr.


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  2. Definitely! To get an idea, try their DVD, Burning (review:http://jesterjaymusic.blogspot.com/2010/07/dvd-stream-review-mogwai-burning-2010.html).

    Amazing sound.

  3. Thanks, Jester! I finally decided to go... and it was purely amazing! ;)

  4. Excellent! Thanks for letting me know!