If you're under the impression that veteran Scottish art-rockers Mogwai are a gang of doomed and gloomed amplifier abusers, holed up in some dingy castle in Glasgow waiting for sunset, you aren't really to blame.Truly, since their groundbreaking 1997 debut Young Team invigorated critics andmuch of the now-saturated post-rock scene, a dour persona has emerged.
Although their primarily instrumental compositions carry many shades they've mastered their own soft-meets-really-really-loud aesthetic, la The Stooges, and expanded on the distorted euphoria of My Bloody Valentine it's difficult not to leave a Mogwai show blabbing about the moment their unthinkable wall of noise feels like skyscrapers caving in.
And ominous sonic overtones aren't all. The titles they patch to their work ooze with varying degrees of bleak irony, from the sober (see 2003's LP Happy Songs for Happy People) to the silly (see "Mogwai Fear Satan," from Young Team) to the Dungeons & Dragons (see the band's recording studio in Glasgow, christened "Castle of Doom").
Strange then, that when I catch Mogwai multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns on the phone in Europe, he's all laughs.
"All in the name of good fun," he says of their gloomy aura. "I mean, none of us are morose creatures. I mean, we're all really cheery people. It's frightening, actually. I think people are horrified when they meet us and we're not chin-stroking ... [perpetuating this] sort of everyone-wears-black kind of thing. It's not like that. We're quite chirpy, to be honest, all of us. The music is the only thing that we do take seriously. Everything else is just a joke, really."
Their latest recording, Mr. Beast, is a perfect example of the distance between Mogwai, the band, and the five wise-asses behind it. Fitting with the title, the album roars with an intensity the group hasn't embraced on record since Young Team. It's more focused, the song lengths are roped in, and the blend between the quiet and loud is at its most poignant and powerful.
The band's weird humor, however, is behind the title. It comes from a sign they noticed while de-boarding an overseas flight. Walking on weary legs though the airport, they spotted a chauffeur holding up a white card for his client, Mr. Beast.
"We should have stayed there to see what they looked like, but that never happened," recalls Burns, laughing. "Because there was a Mrs. Beast as well. There was a Mr. and Mrs. Beast. [I was thinking,] No way. Mad. It's such a strange name, surely you would try and change it."
But never mind the jokes at the music's periphery; there is still the serious volume of a Mogwai show to contend with. Experienced Mogwai-goers warn that earplugs are a must, and that, as at poolside, you probably should eat at least 30 minutes before jumping in so as to not have your innards unwound by the vibrations.
"The volume of it is an effect in itself," says Burns. "I used to love to go and see bands and just feel that bass thing in your chest. You know, it's just really, really good."
And all that ferocious sound, by Mogwai logic, almost seems quaint.
"I think we just really enjoy it," says Burns. "I think we just quite enjoy the aesthetic of loud noise. It's nice. It's good noise."
Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, Englewood
Wednesday, May 3, 9 p.m.
Tickets: $16-$18, 16-plus; visit nipp.com.
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