The Twilight Sad

support Harmonics
author TL date 03/04/15 venue Loppen, Copenhagen, DEN

It is Good Friday in Copenhagen and one option for celebrating is to come to Loppen, where the Scots in The Twilight Sad are playing one of their first Danish shows since a visit to the same venue all the way back in 2009. Of course celebrating is a weird word to use, because as the band's name indicate, their sound is nothing if not woeful and wallowing, yet this does not seem to deter the Copenhageners, as Loppen is quite busy with the buzzing conversations and beer orders of twentysomethings. There's some cause for concern, as a facebook update from the band recently apologised for singer James Graham's vocals being under the weather, cutting the band's show in Aarhus short, and those in the know likely hope this will not be a problem tonight.

Photos from the night taken by HES


Before we get to the subject of those concerns, there is the matter of the support slot from the local group with the not so inventive name Harmonics, who reveal that their appearance on the bill was only settled this Monday, and that their preparations tonight have been no less hasty, as they for some reason have to start without a sound check. With that in mind, they deserve some commendation for sounding relatively tight already from the beginning, with the lead vocals being the only element that remains too low in an otherwise rather even mix. They address us in a modest manner, thanking the audience for showing up early, and then proceed to deliver a handful of tracks that sway between melancholic indie and retro pop stylings, and which all feel longer and more labyrinthine than they are.

Bands like The Amazing, Death Cab For Cutie and Dancing Years come to mind as somewhat related in atmosphere, with the frontman singing the mainstay of his vocals from the edge between his falsetto and his chest voice. He gives a delicate performance, backed by falsetto harmonies from the bassist and the guitarist/keyboards, and it's a bit of a shame that he isn't placed a bit louder in the mix, as some audible lyrics could potentially have been helpful in giving the crowd a narrative structure in the otherwise winding progressions the band plays through. Riffs from the guitars and keyboard seamlessly glide in and out of each others' way, one of them often providing ambience that ebbs and flows while the drummer keeps a tempered pace on a minimalistic kit, often dragging the tip of a stick slowly across a cymbal for a persistent ringing effect.

As the band's allotted half-hour draws to a close, they leave us with an impression that is moderately intriguing. It's clear that their show is not about doing anything physically spectacular on stage, the focus is rather on the evolving movements their songs gradually go through. These come about in a timely manner that prevents the listening experience from ever really stagnating, but at the same time, you're hard pressed to remember any striking signature melodies after the set, or any moments where the build-ups found a particularly satisfying release.

The Twilight Sad

If you describe The Twilight Sad's music in writing, it doesn't read like something that lends itself particularly well to a show. Persistently down-beat and well, sad, the band's style touches on genres like shoegaze, noise-rock and post-punk, and as such you sort of expect a group of dudes standing around admiring their own footwear while kicking up a storm of pedal noise that deafens everyone in attendance. Fortunately the band is quick to kill such expectations though, giving us an early rendition of "Last January" from last year's album "Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave", with Graham quickly working himself into a trance, staggering around the stage, throwing his head around and gesticulating wildly to each fill from the drums.

There's no trace of illness as his melodious voice sings in depressed notes and his movements have him looking more like he's confessing over and over before God, rather than a man who's performing with the audience particularly in mind. He is the sole visual spectacle, as the remaining band plays through the band's cavernous compositions with a stoic calm, yet the mix is on point from the start, and slowly but surely the audience is hypnotised, swaying gently to the steady beats. Graham eventually turns his attention towards the crowd, taking a break to express what seems like a bubbling excitement with being back in Copenhagen and seeing a relatively densely populated Loppen before him. The band has friends here, he explains, dedicating the next song to a "Nicolai" before launching into "And I Became A Prostitute" from the band's 2009 album "Forget The Night Ahead". This album is the band's noisiest, and the curtain of feedback provides a boost in magnitude in the music that flows out over us from the speakers, and when the song features Graham making a leap from his low, calm singing to a high, urgent croon, everything just clicks and chills run down spines while the reverberating guitar noise comes to reflect a sort of primal aching of the soul.

"Reflections Of The Television" follows from the same album, before "It Never Was The Same" substitutes the heavy noise for a more chilled, electronic nuance. Yet from here on the nuances are merely that, while the set overall seems to find a zone where the crowd is enveloped in the band's curtain of sound, with the chills continuing while Graham and the guitars grieve and mourn against the reverb. While singing, Graham still seems in a different universe, like a sleepwalker dreaming the same frantic events over again, yet between songs he expresses gratitude with exhilaration towards the audience: "This is what it's all about. You people are the reason we do this, the people who genuinely care".

The show plays out with music just flowing over us in awesome waves then, except for a hitch with the bassist's equipment that brings "I Could Give You All That You Don't Want" to a halt. "It wouldn't be one of our shows if something didn't go wrong. It's the same in our lives and that's why the music is like this. - Haha, there you go!". The situation is remedied relatively quickly though, without much loss of momentum on the band's part, and eventually things end without encore but with "Cold Days From The Birdhouse" and "And She Would Darken The Memory" from the debut album "Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters", with the former in particular rousing members of the crowd to an anthemic mood. Thus 50 well-measured minutes is what we got, of a frontman that looked like he felt every note and loved performing to the crowd, and a band that sent both a stream of hypnotically pleasant songs out over the room, as well as chills down spines with impressive frequency.


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