In the 2004 martial arts drama House of Flying Daggers, there’s a scene in which sword wielding soldiers float athletically from bamboo stem to bamboo stem in a balletic and gravity defying display of grace.
Tonight’s first act, the aptly named Forest Swords captures a similar feeling, combining a sense of space and movement with a clinical sharpness.
Even in the most beautiful of surroundings, darkness can be just around the corner.
As he weaves in delicate flute this comparison becomes yet more acute, with the music synchronising perfectly with a series of slow motion images primarily drawn from the natural world.
Armed with only a sampler, a guitar and his friend James on bass, Forest Swords’ Matthew Barnes has put together a gorgeous and free-flowing live set, even finding time to give a shout out to Glaswegian cult heroes The Yummy Fur and The Delgados.
As mainstays of the masterfully curated ATP festival series, any line up that features Mogwai tends to be well selected, but tonight’s show at the Barrowlands goes a step beyond.
The pair of support acts (we unfortunately don’t arrive in time for the wonderful SACRED PAWS) may sound about as different from one another as it is possible to get, but in their own way each nods to our headliner’s ability to transcend genre, form and time.
If Forest Swords are out on the fringes, transmitting weighty soundscapes for the new millennia, The Vaselines nod to the group’s roots in the Glasgow indie underground of the eighties and nineties.
“We were last here 27 years ago, supporting the Jesus and Mary Chain and people were throwing bottles at us,” declares Eugene Kelly.
Probably not true for half of his band, who look like they were barely conceived two and a half decades ago, never mind treading the Barras’ boards but Kelly and co-frontwoman Frances McKee earn a respectful reception from the sold-out crowd.
In their heyday the closest The Vaselines ever got to stardom was a series of covers by superfan Kurt Cobain; tonight ‘Molly’s Lips’ is a rockabilly romp that shows off The Vaselines charming fusion of girl-group backing vocals and punk energy, bringing out an extra snarl in Kelly and a smile from McKee.
Compared to Future Swords’ futuristic soundscapes they sound positively retro, but for a group who are well into their third decade, they play with a remarkable energy, pushed onwards by Michael McGaughrin’s formidable drumming.
There’s little that remains to be said about the majesty of Mogwai; as they celebrate 20 years as a band, the legendary crescendos of ‘My Father, My King’ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ are as furiously brilliant as ever, while ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’ and ‘Glasgow Mega-Snake’ attain a white-hot critical mass in front of a hometown crowd.
As the band depart the stage, Stuart Braithwaite thanks the crowd, venue and crew who’ve helped them get this far.
20 years into their LOUD career, Mogwai are still one of Britain’s most dazzling bands.
Words: Max Sefton
Photos: Derek Robertson