THE TWILIGHT SAD - Leeds Brudenell Social Club - 16th June 2018
A summer Saturday at a working mens club in a suburb in Leeds doesn’t sound like much : but for the few, this is everything we needed. A headline show for The Twilight Sad has been a rare event recently – this is the first one in 20 months, and their first since 2015 in the UK. Having only three headline shows in the past few years (two in the US, one in Madrid) alongside nearly a hundred shows in support, as well as an 18 month gap from live shows to work on a new record, this is first chance I have had in too long.
Since first encountering them in 2014, they’ve fast become one of my favourite bands. And 32 years, and 1,253 gigs after I first started seeing bands in small rooms and big rooms, I’ve rarely had shows as good as this. I would go so far as to say that every time I see a band I’m hoping for the best gig of my life, and tonight was in the top 10 shows ; if I ever rank them.
In the afternoon, for example, I walk down a corridor past the soundcheck : and the band are playing “The Wrong Car” to an empty room. And the hairs on my arms stand on end. I’ve never know that happen before in just a soundcheck. It’s a sign. Something will happen.
Any why is that? These aren’t just songs. There’s something more… primal about it than that. The best art has at it a core that it the song must exist, it must be written. It has at the heart of it an unfakeable compulsion that it must have been made, even if only at the point of conception. Some bands lack sincerity, or perhaps exist as entertainment and as a job. Some bands, there’s a sense that this music of theirs was a calling, and that they did not choose this, but that they were chosen to be the antenna for the song and somehow are merely scribes of songs that always existed somewhere in the air waiting to be caught.
These songs have kept us warm on cold nights of the soul and sit beside us on bad day. The lineup has – with the exception of new drummer Sebastien Schultz – been broadly the same for several years, and on stage the band are a tight, and fluid machine. There’s plenty of old songs, and three from the untitled, yet to be announced, next record ; all of which are as melodic, and as essential, as anything else they have ever done. “Dennis Hopper” is a driving thing which feels like I have heard it a dozen times before – instantly familiar and alien. “Arbor” is a delicate, brittle song that grows with age. Best of the bunch is “VTR”, which is a pounding, compelling monster that is a spiky, hurt beast, laden with more hooks than velcro and a more choruses than some bands entire career. I swear the chorus hits with the lines “running away doesn’t feel so bad”, before its just a bridge to the actual refrain.
As far as bands go, some bands inspire a deep devotion, a code, a secret language of shorthand, where the words “Sheepdug” mean a beloved single, and the words “Hippo” on a setlist are met with the anticipation that this might be a rare new song. Still, it’s not exactly the Tool or Pearl Jam fanbase, thankfully, but it’s not the size of the crowd, but the strength of the connection that matters.
On top of this, the band offer a unique atmosphere hardly any other act have ever captured, a euphoric miserablism, a cleansing sort of greeting* which is both joyful and heartbroken at the same time, a hope in a hopeless time. The lyrics themselves are obtuse sketches, open to interpretation and, at the same time, definitive and specific, chasing kitchen sink dramas. The words connect.
(*Scottish version - to cry and weep)
The Twilight Sad are two bands. At one point, five people who make an immense noise and on the other, two people who definitely don’t. Being one of Britain’s best bands – but also, for some reason, not enormously huge, the band tap into a vein of raw emotion, matched with a dense sound that mixes all their influences in something unique. There’s great songs that have been part of my life for years played tonight, but phrases like It Never Was The Same, Cold Days In The Birdhouse, And She Would Darken The Memory probably don’t mean much to but the few.
This isn’t logical, or reasonable. Music isn’t like construction. We don’t look at a song and think of it as a good set of 8,16,32 bars that will do the job, like a pipe, or a bit of good engineering. Music is all about emotion : these songs are tools to allow us to access who we are. If music is the key to our souls, then the doors are open.
And then there’s “Keep Yourself Warm”, a heartfelt tribute to the fallen Scott Hutchison. Emotions come flying out.
Because I lived.
Because I lived, and not everyone else does.
Because I made it.
Because I stood at the edge, and no matter how many years ago it was in terms of your calendar, it was still yesterday.
Because I close my eyes and it comes back.
Because I made it.
Because others didn’t.
Because it was the biggest victory I ever won was to just keep breathing.
Because survivors guilt can weigh heavy on you.
Because even though you may not have died that day, it can kill you in the end.
Because Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a thing.
Because I can’t use words.
Because I felt for a few minutes this enormous cleansing.
Because I cried in public and I felt everything, the joy and the terror.
Because seeing this band sing that song three feet from me was the most intense thing I have experienced in three decades of gigging.
Because 1,253 shows in, music still does this to me.
Because the weight left me and I wept like a child.
Because I needed it. To mark the moment.
Because I survived.
Because I lived.
Music is inherently selfish. If I can’t talk about how it affected me, I can’t talk about anything. I can’t discuss how I feel, I am a robot. We need to won our feelings ; these things true to us even if no one else, they are what we see, the world we only ever see, when the door opens. It’s only a song, sure. But a song is much more than just a song. A great song is a device we use to access our souls. And this band have many great songs.
That Summer, At Home I Became The Invisible Boy
Dennis Hopper (Hippo)
I Became A Prostitute
It Never Was The Same
Reflection Of The Television
The Wrong Car
There’s A Girl In The Corner
Cold Days In the Birdhouse
And She Would Darken The Memory
Keep Yourself Warm