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Special Moves
Rock Action
Format: CD+DVD / 2LP+CD+DVD / MP3+DVD
Release Date: August 24, 2010
By Robert Stribley February 8, 2011

Live albums are, of course, hit or miss affairs. I’ll never forget my disappointment at purchasing New Order’s BBC Radio 1 Live album and getting in my car hurriedly to throw it on the CD player only to find the boys’ live work simply didn’t match up to their glorious studio productions. It bore all the makings of your classic, trotted-out label obligation album.

If you know anything about Scotland’s Mogwai, however, you’d expect nothing less than an intense, faithful reproduction of all their sturm und drang within a live concert. And that’s exactly what we find on Special Moves. Recorded over three April nights in Brooklyn during 2009, the masterful presentation opens with “I’m Jim Morrison” and just the sort of slow-building, syrupy majesty you’d expect from the band. Continuing moodily with the piano-laden “Friend of the Night,” Mogwai proceed to smartly integrate at least one cut from each of their albums, including favorites such as “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School,” and, of course, “Mogwai Fear Satan.”

Stuart Braithwaite offers quavering vocals on “Cody,” the single song here with clearly articulated lyrics. From there, though, the band plummets into the squall of “You Don’t Know Jesus,” followed by the giddy squelch of “I Know You Are, But What Am I” – ten minutes of instrumental acuity with nary a sung couplet to be found. Braithwaite once talked to The Express about Mogwai’s dearth of lyrics: “Lyrics are a real comfort to some people,” he said. “I guess they like to sing along and when they can’t do that with us, they can get a bit upset.” Thankfully, the band has adhered closely to its vision over time and not added lyrics simply for the sake of singing.

Later, we’re treated to the tintinnabulating “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” and its distorted vocalizations. That song dissolves into a smashing electric storm before Braithwaite finally speaks to announce the band’s set for two more songs, reminding us, this is actually a live performance. Mogwai then launches into 10-and-a-half minutes of “Like Herod” from the band’s acclaimed debut album Mogwai Young Team. The band ends it all with the much shorter, singularly abrupt, though nonetheless intense, “Glasgow Megasnake.”

Aside from the occasional yelp and sporadic clapping from the audience, you’ll hardly hear this as a live effort; it’s simply another opportunity to enter a trance state with the five Glaswegians. As I sit here in one of The East Village’s best-keep-secret bars, fondling a Belgian double bock, watching the light dim outside over the filthy snow, Mogwai slip into “Hunted by Freak” and I can’t think of a better soundtrack for this crystalline, winter moment.

A concert film, titled Burning, also accompanies most versions of this release. The performance is spliced together with shots of the lads wandering around gritty New York street scenes. Filmed in characteristic black-and-white by Vincent Moon and Nathanaël Le Scouarnec at the Music Hall of Williamsburg during the same shows Special Moves was recorded, there are plenty of cuts to crowd members, often spellbound, wavering gently like sea creatures before the band’s unfolding fury.

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