I got into The Twilight Sad thanks to a chance link from my girlfriend, who having read about them suggested they might be “up my street”. She wasn’t wrong, either, and a couple of years later, I finally got my chance on Monday night to see whether they lived up to their live reputation, and also did their dense-but-delicate songs justice onstage.
It was also a pleasant opportunity to reacquaint myself with a London venue I used to be a regular at – this was the first time I had set foot in the Borderline for about twelve or thirteen years. And it is funny how your memory distorts reality somewhat – I don’t remember the venue being that big.
However, it is still a great venue to see bands, provided you get the right spot. With at least one ill-positioned pillar, and many steps, it is easy to get the wrong place and have a poor experience, but we managed to get a good position early, were able to enjoy the 80s goth and industrial pre-gig tape for a lengthy period, especially as it appeared that one of the support acts was not playing.
One notable thing is that the band don’t look quite like I expected them to. Looking, well, less of a bunch of indie kids, perhaps, more a bunch of people that have seen life in all its forms. But when you think about it, this is perhaps more appropriate. The bands lyrics have always hinted at unhappiness in life, and their songs tread a fine line between being dark and maudlin.
But the main reason the band were here this time was to begin the promotion of their forthcoming album No One Can Ever Know, of which a few tracks have already been previewed from already. The new stuff is impressive, too, and offers a big leap forward in some ways. This was shown most impressively by the set opener Kill It In the Morning. Heralded by a deep, heavy electronic pulse (that underpins the whole song), and a deep, eighties-industrialish bass line that propels things forward. But this song is very much the definition of a slow burn. It broods away for some considerable time, before the drums crash in and it picks up the tempo. But the song really hits home during an astonishing key change in the last minute or so, that takes things to utterly joyous heights. And that was just the opener.
The other pick of the new was new single Sick. A bleak, heavily electronic ballad, but unlike so much of this bands output it adheres to the less is more approach, rather than layering things so that it sounds like about ten guitarists are doing battle. The latter idea is no bad thing, particularly in such skilled hands as this band, but it was a good way of giving a bit of a breather.
Kill It In The Morning
I Became a Prostitute
Mapped by What Surrounded Them
That Birthday Present
Reflection of the Television
Cold Days From the Birdhouse
That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy
And She Would Darken the Memory
At the Burnside
Why a breather? Well, the band are more than a little intense live. They are on record, yes, but watching them live just adds another level or four. While most of the band seem to take the approach of getting their heads down and putting every inch of their concentration into playing, vocalist James Graham holds the attention time and again. There is a little of Ian Curtis in his performance, his jolting as if being fed a voltage, his intense stare. But again it appears a case of him totally losing himself in the music, and his voice soars above the band.
Sonically the band straddle the line between shoegaze and post-rock, but unlike many other bands in similar spheres, the vocals here are utterly essential. Part of that is down to the unusual sound of such a broad Scottish accent delivering it, but part of it really is that his vocals add another level to the dense instrumentation, and indeed finish the jigsaw.
And that jigsaw on Monday was a well balanced one – featuring four songs from each album. I have to confess that I wasn’t as sold on the second album as others perhaps were, although I’ll concede that the near-anthemic I Became a Prostitute is one of the best songs the band have written. For me, though, the gig was made all the more awesome by the song choices from the first album – basically the four strongest songs on it.
All four of which, too, appear to encapsulate the despair experienced as you grow up. The loneliness, the craving for attention, even the death of pets. Who knew that apparently mundane subjects such as this could be transformed into such thrilling, intense and emotional music? But that’s the final touch for this band. A band who transcend the sum of their parts, creating a sound that is pretty much their own, and making for a quite astonishing live show. Miss them at your peril.