THE TWILIGHT SAD – London Camden Electric Ballroom 28 Feb + Glasgow Barrowlands 02 March 19
To see a band visibly make The Great Leap is a rare thing. Few bands get to do such a thing and even fewer of us get to see it happening with our own eyes. After 12 years, the ever changing Twilight Sad meanwhile, have managed to somehow step up a gear artistically and creatively – and brought people in with them on the way. It’s exciting. It’s intoxicating. It’s beautiful. The great leap has seen them take a huge step in both their visibility, and more importantly, their work. The latest album “It Won/t Be Like This All The Time” is probably my favourite album of the past 25 years, and to experience this is a night that will not be forgotten by anyone who was there.
The crowning glory, as such of this, is a Saturday night headline at the legendary Barrowlands in Glasgow – and for a band that came so close, so many times, to not being around anymore and often played to empty, small rooms and openly wondered if this was the end, the fact that they can sell out the best venue in the country (if not the world), in their home town, in a few minutes is a moment to savour. The secret it seems has escaped.
Exposure is a terrible word ; and yet exposure is what has opened doors. For all the high profile support slots, never forget that the band got here through two things ; the quality of the songs – and a dogged determination, of hard work, and persistence. It doesn’t matter how much exposure you get if the core songs aren’t good enough, or don’t connect. What this bands music does to some people is a magical thing. For the band, part of it is that they too believe in this. Because if you didn’t believe in this, and did it just for money, sometimes there isn’t that much money in this.
Nonetheless, tonight victory is The Sad’s to lose : but they triumph. In Glasgow they are supported by Fiskur and Michael Timmons – handpicked, local acts that mine similar territory. In London, it is probably the final London appearance by A Mote Of Dust, which is, in itself, a sad moment to see such talent simply unable to continue because of money.
The Twilight Sad never do things by halves. There’s no real showmanship as such, more a fluency in the music that becomes something else. And, in the shape of vocalist James Graham, there’s an obviously emotional, and conscious focal point who is both very aware of what this means, and absolutely not taking it for granted. Years of playing and songwriting have culminated in this night.
What we do get is a committed, passionate performance by a band that have utterly grown into everything they ever promised they could be. James sings at the peak of his abilities and powers with a passion that most bands could only hope to hit. Andy McFarlane on guitar acts as a sort of aural ringmaster, stoic and barely moving whilst creating a beautiful squall of noise as a dark texture over everything else ; almost, in many ways, similar to the way The Jesus And Mary Chain slathered “Psychocandy” with tonal noise over the top of these brittle, great songs. The bands engine room of Jonny Doc, new drummer Sebastien Schlutz, and Brendan Smith create a solid and powerful bedrock. Jonny’s basslines act as the melodic lead – he’s a sorely under-rated bass player, whilst at the same time Brendan creates rhythmic textures and atmospheres that match the guitar tones and complement them. At the heart is new drummer Seb, who pushes the songs with a technical fluency the band needed to make these songs what they have become. Seeing them with him now, even though I have seen other lineups, makes me wonder how the band could have ever done without him. They probably, truth be told, not been able to do this.
London opens with a powerful triple hit from the new album ; the music is built on dynamics with tone and tempo shifts, ebbs and flows, tension and release – veering between a tightly coiled spring and a joyous expression. The opener “[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs]” is a slow build that casually spends its choruses like a millionaire on a gambling spree. As soon as there’s a chant from the crowd of “I called you. I called you all night.” There’s the double barrel line, that the first moment I heard it, I just knew this band had become everything I hoped they could :
“Do they understand you?
Do they call out your name?
Do they even miss you?
All these boys look the same.”
In the current world, and the refreshing tide against toxic, and stupid masculinity there’s not many songs that so obviously rubbish fuckboys for being the utter idiots they are. And yet, here it is, addressing it, and being openly vulnerable and emotional, in a way that the best bands do. Alongside Idles, this band are unafraid of showing their emotions and their humanity.
This song, like many of the others, achieves what all great art does. The best art opens our eyes, helps us see the world in a different light, and makes us understand life a little better than we did before.
And what is the point of art, if not to feel? If not to see? If not to access insights and emotions? To experience life differently? And for me at least, The Twilight Sad are a band that provides me with a map through the terrain. A way of understanding and decoding emotions. The confusion, sadness, joy, that comes with being alive. Their niche is ecstatic misery, in recognising both sides of the coin, and how true happiness cannot come without struggle. My life has been an uneasy path, and there is a bittersweet comfort in knowing that its not just my path that is difficult. Not that I would wish some of those struggles on anyone else, but to feel that sense of community in that it is a battle and not a lone trek through the wilderness is sometimes a consolation.
Also – and forgive me for indulging – the Sad fan community is one of the friendliest I have encountered. There’s a sense of belonging and likemindedness amongst the people here, with shared and common experiences and battles. Life doesn’t always come easy to some people, and maybe that’s one of the common elements amongst us. And down here at the gig, it’s very definitely a sense of “us”, instead of being alone in a crowd.
With barely a seconds pause, the band have revved up and are deep into “Girl Chewing Gum”, and aside from “Last January” (which is a pounding, powerful song), the first half hour is all new material. There’s also their best song yet – “VTr”. It’s the perfect combination of tension/release, built on a throbbing bassline, and stuffed with more hooks than a fish’s mouth. The lyric clearly addresses a matter very close to my soul – the redemptive power of love and community to overcome the adverse – and in one key line, an urging to find joy wherever it may be in whatever shape it may come. There’s no love too small.
In bands I love, I cling to the lyrics, to find nuggets and fragments of truth, to find designs for life, and commandments, of insights that are tossed from minds of others, signs that point to ways through this thing called life that might make it easier.
On previous nights of the tour, the band have played the whole of the new album in full : In Glasgow, James has strained his voice and they play almost all of it – not that the night feels shortchanged as a result. His voice can’t hit the high notes of “Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting”, or “Girl Chewing Gum” and cancelling your biggest headline show yet isn’t an option, so the band take some of songs out of the set which push the voice to its limits.
In the course of the night, the band also touch upon the key points of their history, with “Last January”, “Reflection Of The Television” and “Girl In The Corner”, as well as a final triumphant closing segment which is, to put it mildly, emotional, and designed perhaps intentionally, to make us all feel. Some of the older songs are absent – these are the first time, I think, since release that the band have taken “That Summer At Home I Became The Invisible Boy”, and “Don’t Move” out of a headline tour. But the night doesn’t feel less by their absence, and you may only miss them if you know they were once there.
There’s not a Sad gig yet that I have not felt things at. Tonight is no exception ; and I feel perhaps more than I have at most. “Cold Days In The Birdhouse” may be about many things, and nothing, but tonight its about one thing : the crowd singing together. And not mere terrace chant nursery rhymes about Wonderwalls or whatevers, but deep, heartfelt, enormous explorations of love and hope that feel like they were taken from my collective, unexpressed unconscious.
There’s the powerful, muscular “The Wrong Car”. This non-album single was only ever released on vinyl, and it floors me. I’m not sure exactly what its about, but as someone who has spent more of their life over-thinking and with anxiety as a superpower (just well hidden), I’ve spent what felt like many nights of my life staying in at night, because its more than I can bear to show. And of course, making the wrong decision, being wrong before, getting in to the right side of the wrong car. The lyrics are obtuse, even impenetrable, but to me, they cut right through to mean what I need them to mean. It’s about – to me – making mistakes, and learning from them.
And then there’s the next song. And like everytime, this song breaks my heart and remakes it at the same time. It’s Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm”. It’s too much and yet not quite enough ; and what do I feel? A thousand things at once. A reminder – as if I could forget – of the joy, of the life music gave me. Life never made sense until music came in, and songs like this became my guides when I was alone, or provided a light when I was lost. Songs like this helped me see in the dark. And yet I survived, and Scott didn’t, and it’s a survival song, a song of protest, a song that to me symbolises my life itself, and a sign of the eternal battle I fight between the sad, (the blues, whatever you want to call it) itself and the light that has steered me through the dark nights. I cry and weep and lose myself, and find myself, and here I am, fighting, living, and being alive itself is a victory because there were days when I wasn’t sure I would be doing that until I hit old age. I didn’t always think I’d make it to here and now. It’s quite literally the battle of, and for, my life, and it’s exhausting some days, and oh, how I wish it wasn’t.
The final song is “And She Would Darken The Memory”. It’s a transcendent blow out ; a firework ; a final cacophony of sound and defiance against the silence for me, that builds to a hypnotic trance of release.
Of course some bands have fans. And some bands have people that either love them or are indifferent. If you could judge a band’s greatness purely by how much a band is loved by their most fervent, The Twilight Sad might just be one of the best bands in human history ever. I would not argue that assessment.
Friendships were made. A intercontinental marriage proposal was made. This band changes lives. For one night, people travelled all across the world to be in that perfect room for two hours. There’s not many shows where you might think You had to be there. This was one. Magic happened here.
[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs]
Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting*
Girl Chewing Gum*
Reflection Of The Television
Sunday Day 13
There's A Girl In The Corner
I/m Not Here
Keep It All To Myself*
Let's Get Lost
Cold Days In The Birdhouse
The Wrong Car
Keep Yourself Warm
And She Would Darken The Memory
* - not played in Glasgow