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Special Moves

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Album Review

For a band whose epic compositions and dramatic dynamics play so well in concert, it's somewhat surprising that Mogwai didn’t release an official live album until 2010's Special Moves. For fans who have seen the band live and novices alike, the set was worth the wait. Recorded at one of the band's 2009 Brooklyn shows, Special Moves is beautifully mixed, balancing all of their onstage elements carefully while capturing the sheer power of their concerts; there’s also just enough audience noise to remind listeners that they’re playing in front of a devoted crowd. This sense of balance extends to the rest of the album, from its even-handed mix of songs from each of Mogwai's albums, to its equal measure of introspective and bombastic moments. True to the band, Special Moves' setlist is somewhat willful; it’s not just a playlist of Mogwai's best-known songs. Happy Songs for Happy People's "Hunted by a Freak" is as close as the band gets to playing a hit single, a relatively concise moment in a generous set dominated by expansive performances. The two biggest showpieces come from the band’s first proper album Young Team: "Fear Satan," which the band plays after they've warmed up a bit, goes from pin-drop silence to massive walls of guitar over the course of 12 minutes, and "Like Herod," a dark, angular, 11-minute workout that, in retrospect, shows that Mogwai have been big metal fans throughout their existence. Meanwhile, Mr. Beast's "Friend of the Night" and Rock Action's "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong" demonstrate how the band's gentler moments blossom in a live setting. The show ends with the literal bang of "Glasgow Megasnake," a three-minute reminder that Mogwai excels at short and long-form rocking. While nothing can capture the true feeling of being flattened by one of Mogwai's shows except attending one, Special Moves is still a great live document. Coupled with Vincent Moon's moody black-and-white concert film Burning (which is worth the price of admission for "Batcat" alone), it's the complete Mogwai concert experience.


Formed: 1996 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The cosmic post-rock band Mogwai was formed in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1996 by guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite, guitarist Dominic Aitchison, and drummer Martin Bulloch, longtime friends with the goal of creating "serious guitar music." Toward that end, they added another guitarist, John Cummings, before debuting in March 1996 with the single "Tuner," a rarity in the Mogwai discography for its prominent vocals; the follow-up, a split single with Dweeb titled "Angels vs. Aliens," landed in the...
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