There was a time when you could expect to leave a Mogwai show with more than a just slight ring in the ears. In some ways, this was welcomed, with the gloomy Scots turning post-rock jams into red-lining aural assaults that would stick in your head literally for days. But with this louder-than-thou approach the band lost the subtlety and tenderness often found on record, making Mogwai shows a bit disappointing for those who appreciate them for more than just rock action. It was surprising then that this far into the band’s career, the five-piece could learn a few new tricks, as they turned their recent Vancouver stop into a performance that, believe it or not, was actually kind of gentle.
Showcasing their new The Hawk Is Howling material, the band traded much of their usual harshness for an inviting set that drew you closer to the stage rather than drove you away from it. This wasn’t to say the band didn’t occasionally bring the noise—like during a raucous, kick-you-in-the-teeth rendition of their new single “Batcat”—but they balanced it with those tender moments, sounding looser and warmer than you would ever expect. For once, you could actually pick out what was going on in the seven-minute-plus endurance exercises instead of just being clobbered with a deafening wall of distortion.
Making matters even better was Mogwai’s live resurrection of their Young Team debut, from which they delivered several classics such as “Tracy,” “Like Herod” and the show’s highlight, a beautifully rendered “Mogwai Fear Satan.” In fact, the band played little other than tracks from Young Team and those from The Hawk Is Howling, which played surprisingly well off each other.
Ironically, while Mogwai succeeded by toning it down, openers Fuck Buttons could have pushed it a bit more. The set by the electronically charged U.K. duo often felt on the edge of blowing up but never quite got there. Nevertheless, their performance was hardly a disappointment. It just got overshadowed by what was Mogwai’s best Vancouver show by far.