For my first gig of a busy few weeks (five gigs between now and the end of February, and quite a few in the month or two after that), it was time to revisit a band who I only saw about three months ago. Call it a case of making up for lost time, perhaps, but I really should have seen The Twilight Sad live earlier.
Still. That’s my loss, and all I can do is make up for lost time. So, since the gig in November, the band have released their third album, and while that previous gig provided a few hints as to their direction, it didn’t reveal the whole hand. So: previously the band relied on an astonishingly dense sound, layer upon layer of guitars and electronics to propel songs forward, and James Graham’s tortured, despairing vocals at the eye of the storm.
The Twilight Sad setlist
Kill It In The Morning
That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy
Reflection of the Television
I Became a Prostitute
Cold Days From the Birdhouse
And She Would Darken the Memory
At the Burnside
But with the new album, the emphasis has changed, and this is even more pronounced live. Most of the newer songs are stripped down, with an icy, post-punk sheen that really does make them stand out. The ominous, elecronic pulse of Kill It In The Morning that opened the gig made even more sense here – a sign that the band are moving on, but this jarring, brutal track is not a way of easing us into the change.
Not that it matters too much. The new sound suits the band just as well as the old, although intriguingly the new songs seemed to work better live, for the most part. But that might simply be the fact that the sound setup was biased towards the new. Which, sadly, blunted the impact of the old songs a little, aside from the large number of people in the (sold out) crowd that were singing along to the various tales of child and teen trauma that seem to make up most of the subjects on the first two albums.
Lyrically, there has perhaps been a shift too. The electronics-drenched Alphabet makes that plain: “So sick to death / Of the sight of you now“, seemingly bringing things up to date, and the remainder of the album takes matters into similar realms. Of the new songs, though, one of the real highlights is the epic Dead City, which sees the band shroud themselves in the shadow of Joy Division, while Another Bed, amid it’s bright melodic touches, has an air of malevolence in the chorus kiss-off that notes “I’ll find you / Don’t worry“.
So, remarkably, The Twilight Sad have managed to turn their songs into even darker realms, while successfully breaking from just making another album of the same sound as previous. Their old songs sound just as dark as ever, mind, and hearing the occasional wall of sound nearly crush the venue at points was really quite welcome. And things closed with the bleak, piano-led elegance of At the Burnside, it was implicitly made clear that there would be no encore.
Which is fine by me. Can more bands dispense with the charade of the encore, please? We’ve paid money to see the band, we don’t need to earn the right to see the whole set.