The Twilight Sad


Sweet baby Jesus, The Twilight Sad (TTS) are an astonishingly good live band. Scrap that; they’re just an astonishingly good band full stop. Here to support their ridiculously great new album IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME (which, annoying punctuation and capitals aside, is their best effort since their peerless debut Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters), the atmosphere is one of sheer anticipation for a show that could turn out to be one of the best of the year. From the very moment they come on stage to a roar of approval, to the moment they step away encore-less, the intensity and brilliance never lets up for even a second.

Most of this is down to two things: the tightness of a band who have been together for an age, and James Graham, the whirling banshee of a frontman whose performance makes it impossible to remove your eyeballs from him for the whole 90mins. Kicking off with the opener to their new album ‘[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs]’, all arpeggio synths, pummelling drums and Graham menacingly asking us “why can’t you remember me”, red lights bathing the stage adding to the general sense of unease, everything teetering on a knife edge. Followed up by ‘Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting’ (what a title), I start to wonder if they are going to play the whole of the new album in order, something I would have very little quibbles about, but the spell is broken when after a tremendous ‘The Arbor’, they play “an old one”, ‘Reflection of the Television’ from their second album Forget The Night Ahead, and the crowd are suitably hyped for it, so much so that Graham, in his delightful Scottish brogue (all rolled ‘rrrrr’s and lilting threat) stops for a rare breath between songs to let us know how amazed his is at our reaction: “there’s never people dancing and jumping away at our gigs, I’m just usually the lone dickhead doing it”, something which I can’t imagine is true unless all crowds outside of Manchester are terrible (a possibility, having witnessed London crowds for 8 years).

‘Auge_Maschine’ is so full of menace (in the best possible way) that I half expect the band to start getting up in the faces of the crowd, and when ‘VTr’ gives a slight respite from the sheer force of what has gone before, the stage lit up in soft greens and purples like the northern lights have found their way indoors to Whitworth Street, it’s not until you hear Graham is singing “I don’t know who to trust, don’t let me do my worst” that you realise there hasn’t been any let up at all. His posturing at times is almost Trent Reznor-esque, clad in black, gripping the head of the mic, legs wide apart one behind the other, leaning into his most personal lyrics yet, he’s mesmeric to the point that I don’t really take in that there’s a stage full of other band members too. ‘Cold Long Days From The Birdhouse’, a fan favourite from their debut album, inspires a mass sing-a-long (“it’s not fucking Disney, but sing-a-long to this if you like,” Graham deadpans beforehand), and the huge synth banger ‘I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want’ is epic.

And yet there is a higher emotional peak to be climbed. It’s well documented that the band are very close to fellow Scots Frightened Rabbit, and the death of frontman Scott Hutchinson who took his own life last year hit TTS and Graham in particular. Since then, the band have been performing ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ at every TTS show as not only a tribute to Scott, but as a way to keep his voice alive and introduce new people to their wonderful music (check out Midnight Organ Fight if you are unfamiliar with them), as recently discussed in the wonderful Gold Flake Paint music journal (a must read, it’s such a great magazine). So it comes to pass here, a song so full of heightened emotion that I have no idea how he performs it each night, the rawness not quite gone (although not as raw as when I saw them do it at Primavera last May, only weeks removed from his death, which is the most incredibly moving thing I’ve ever seen, I’m welling up typing this, I have no idea where he got the strength to do that). It’s extraordinary and celebratory and almost, almost too much to handle.

The band finish on ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’ (give this band a Pulitzer for song titles) with a powerful extended coda where Graham swirls and falls around the stage, lost in the wall of noise being created by the band, looking up to the gods and raising his hands in praise, and with that they’re done, no encore, leaving everything they have on that stage and in the rapturous response from an exhausted, elated crowd. It has truly been astonishing to witness a band at the absolute peak of their powers.

The Twilight Sad: Official | Facebook | Twitter