Live Review // Mogwai Performing live to Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait


The Barbican – 26th July

I’ve always tried to keep my love of football and music separate. The two things have always felt like complete opposites to me. The unconscious versus the conscious; reflective artistry versus responsive (though skilful) pragmatism. That’s not to mention that any film or music which has tried to reference football in any type of meaningful way has always been terrible.

Or that was until ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’ – created by video artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parenois – which superbly captures the artistry of the game by producing a dazzling portrait of the greatest players to have graced a football pitch. And the ebb and flow of Mogwai’s soundtrack complemented it brilliantly.

Tonight at The Barbican – the perfect backdrop for an event such as this – this idea is brought into even sharper focus; the band, in a rare move, playing it live in front of a huge screen. It means this is far from being a conventional concert but it works magnificently. It’s more dynamic, more resonant than on celluloid; capturing the brooding, elegant image of Zidane on the pitch. At times gentle, at times a huge wash of noise, it tugs at you as you are hypnotised by Zidane’s presence on the screen.

There’s a line in the film which says ‘Magic is sometimes very close to nothing at all’ and it sums tonight up perfectly. The music fades in and out, sometimes disappearing completely so you can hear Zidane’s breathing, his feet brushing the turf.

It means there are crescendos and moments of reflective quiet. But when it’s loud it’s very loud. You forget how deafening Mogwai are when you haven’t seen them for a while. The man next to me repeatedly puts his fingers in his years.

The cameras follow Zidane relentlessly for almost 90 minutes, in real time: Zidane trudging about, scowling, effortlessly controlling the ball, sometimes breaking into a run. Your eyes flit between the band and the film that plays on a giant screen above them. It is, as it should be, impossible to separate the music from the images, so wrapped together
 are they.

That’s why tonight works so well. Both the player and the band seem in complete control. Both in command of their own unique powers, both able to create moments of sublime beauty, capturing tension and creating release. It’s the Venn diagram where football and music come together.

And that control remains until the finale. Suddenly Zidane gets sent off, the music builds and builds until your ears are bleeding. The intense squall, a huge wash of noise, as Beckham ushers him away and a red card is shown. Then it’s over. ‘Magic is sometimes very close to nothing at all.’

Danny Wright

Buy: Mogwai – Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait