Mogwai is a band I know very little about. Blasphemy, right? I really don’t, but I want to find out more. Honestly, I do. I guess it is a little strange to be starting with their first ever concert video, I understand that. However, if you stop and think about it, what better way is there to getting intimate with a band other than to witness them live? I know this isn’t quite the same as actually seeing them in a concert, but it does go a long way to showing one what the band is really like, how they flow, how they fit together, and how proficient they are at presenting their compositions. It is the live setting that will expose the act for what they are: a studio-only band or one that can bring it to the stage in compelling fashion.
All right, I guess I should back up a little bit. I am not completely unfamiliar with Mogwai, although what I have heard is not exactly unfettered Mogwai. My first exposure came on the soundtrack album for Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, where they and Kronos Quartet collaborated with composer Clint Mansell. It is a strange and beautiful recording and one of my favorite scores. Ever since then I have been curious about Mogwai, but for one reason or another have never acted upon that curiosity. For this I take full responsibility.
This concert film was shot over a three-day span in April 2009 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, by Vincent Moon and Nathanaël Le Scouarnec. It is not what you would call a traditional concert. You are not going to get big shots of the stage in front of a sea of screaming fans. You won’t get cameras swooping in from the sky or shots from the photo pit in front of the stage. No, this is not that sort of concert film. Frankly, I am having a hard time thinking of how to accurately describe this concert. It is a distinctly different beast that looks to transcend what is commonly recognized as “the concert.”
Burning was filmed in black-and-white, and features elements shot on the streets of New York City integrated into the footage of the band. There are shots of fans watching the band, closeups of the band members as they play, odd angles of the instruments shown, and shots of the band intently playing their music. It is intensely mesmerizing.
The black-and-white adds a lot of texture to the concert. It lends an out of time feel, as if we are watching a performance from the 1960’s or 1970’s. I know we aren’t, but there is that effect. There is a noticeable amount of grain evident throughout, which further adds to the texture. The black-and-white film, combined with the concert lights, heightens intensity as it sometimes becomes oversaturated, while other times it is rather subdued, allowing more detail to be revealed. It is a fantastic look that blends perfectly with the music.
Yes, the music. This is why we are really here, right? As I mentioned earlier, I am unfamiliar with their material and could not tell you what any of the song titles are. Even looking at the track listing does not help me any, as I could not always tell where one song ended and the next began. What I can say is that like the gorgeous photography, the music is captivating. The mostly instrumental compositions take on a life of their own, bringing the video to life. Guitar-driven and effects-laden, sonic tapestries swirl through the air.
These guys are pretty amazing, definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each instrument brings a new piece, as one weaves together with others, allowing the music to build and build so as to take on a life of its own.
Mogwai and the two directors take Burning out of the realm of the mere concert film and into the world of art. The best thing about it is that it never feels pretentious. It feels like they set out to accurately represent their music in a visual fashion more than just a document of the performance. This is a visual display of their sonic creation and it is fantastic.
Bottom line: Whether you are familiar with the Scottish purveyors of post-rock excellence or not, it really doesn’t matter. This film is really involving show. It features a band playing some great music, a creative collective who have a vision and know how to execute it.
1. The Precipice
2. I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
3. Hunted By a Freak
4. Like Herod
5. New Paths to Helicon Part 1
6. Mogwai Fear Satan
7. Scotland’s Shame