Mogwai – Town Hall – January29, 2017
I can’t speak for the rest of the audience that packed Town Hall last night to bear witness to Mogwai perform their score for the documentary Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, but anyone with any amount of identification whatsoever with humanity had to have been leveled. The 2015 documentary directed by Mark Cousins strung together archival footage of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the Three Mile Island accident, also showing the subsequent protests and revelations of the Cold War era. Mogwai performed their score for the film live to close out the Edinburgh International Festival in 2016, and have been touring with it through North America to begin 2017. With an equally impressive magnitude of output and precision of timing, they played in lockstep with the large-screen projection of the film above and behind them last night. Two touring members joined the band’s core, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite, keyboardist Barry Burns and drummer Martin Bulloch.
I think I can unequivocally say, without hyperbole, that I’ve never before been impacted by art’s power to alter consciousness, both in the aspect of being sensationally evocative and also provocative of motivation. It quickly got to a point where my eyes were fixated on the utterly devastating footage of the by-products of the inception of atomic energy. The band appeared to just dissolve into the surrounding darkness. At times during the breaks in the score that made audible the remarks of people who lived during that time and dealt directly with its consequences, all onstage seemed as though they were bowing their heads in memory and silence. The music brought together an ensemble of electric guitar, keyboards and drums in one massive, scorching onslaught, blowing up the normal paradigm of the concert experience. It was no place for children or those faint of tolerance.
In my opinion, Mogwai have now passed into a rarified class of musicians who recognize the influence harnessed in their compositions and find applications to a cause larger than their own. The performance was all the more disquieting now that we are all that much closer to something going disastrously and irreparably wrong. Our newest president and anyone remotely associated with nuclear proliferation should be strapped down and made to see this show. Absolutely, Mogwai’s performance of Atomic is an agent for a message with enormous significance, escorting it to a place where it is impossible to ignore. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly