Glasgow’s The Twilight Sad rose above technical difficulties to deliver a remarkable and memorable show. Playing their last date in the United States for a long while, the band delivered an epic, soul-smashing tragedy that filled the cavernous new Music Hall In Williamsburg (QRO venue review) in a rather fitting way. They had to stop more than once on Sunday, September 30th, because of equipment problems, but managed to fill that time, as well – not with more sadness, but with hilarious audience repartee.
Touring off the back of their debut LP, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters (QRO review), The Twilight Sad stuck to that album, playing every track off it but the eponymous instrumental that ends the record – and in the exact same order. While this took away some of the surprise, there is a strong track-to-track flow on Fourteen which worked well live. The clear, subdued beginning of opener “Cold Days From the Birdhouse” drew the crowd’s attention just as it does on the LP, setting them up nicely for the expansive post-rock explosion in the middle. “That Summer, At Home, I Had Become the Invisible Boy” did the same trick, only more so, with an almost sweet, laid-back sadness that made it all the more heartbreaking. And “Walking For Two Hours” really popped, standing out from its album delivery, thanks to Craig Orzel’s stronger bass guitar.
However, just as Fourteen Autumns drags a bit in the middle, so too did the show. But singer James Graham had the perfect antidote for that: humor. He started off the middle section by telling the one story he knows and has been telling throughout this tour. However, his thick Scottish brogue meant that all that all one could pick out was “American Airlines” and the song “Fly Me To the Moon” – but somehow, that only made it funnier… Graham beat the living daylights out of drummer Mark Devine’s cymbal on “Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall So Hard” (see right), and afterwards, some guy at the back of Music Hall shouted out, “Play Three Seconds [Of Dead Air]”, the almost nine minutes-long final track on their self-titled EP from last year. First guitarist Andy MacFarlane, then Graham, uttered a quick, bemused, “No”.
But that request would come back again, when The Twilight Sad had to stop everything because their monitors weren’t working. Luckily, monitors are for the musicians to know what they sound like, not the crowd, so one really couldn’t tell anything was wrong, until they were finishing “Mapped By What Surrounded Them”, Graham, MacFarlane, and Orzel were all looking off to the side of the stage at a crewman. As the staff at Music Hall ran about trying to fix things, the fan at the back took advantage of the free moment (and the inherent pun) by shouting for “Three Seconds of Dead Air”. Fazed by the monitor problems, Graham wasn’t fazed by the yell, as he responded, “The thing holding back that song is the fact that they all hate it and I love it.” He instructed the crowd to complain to Andy MacFarlane, with which a girl up front shouted, “Fuck you, Andy!” Graham replied, “Fuck you, Andy? Fuck you, baby bitch.” He said he defended his guitarist because, “Andy is going to kick the shit out of me when I get back stage.” To which the “Three Seconds” fan yelled out, “Fuck you, baby bitch!” That left all of the dower Scotsmen in stitches, especially Graham, who replied, “You have no idea how good that felt. This guy takes the piss out of me, everyday.”
Their monitors were never fixed, but that didn’t stop The Twilight Sad from delivering a powerful rendition of “And She Would Darken the Memory”. All the comedy beforehand didn’t take away from shadowy sorrow of “Memory”, but a livened-up Graham did take the opportunity to climb atop Devine’s bass drum (see right). Yet the second major technical issue to rear its head wasn’t out of that (Graham didn’t even fall, and Devine didn’t even miss a beat). Rather, it was a string breaking – a bass string breaking (see left). Yes, it was the G string (the highest and thinnest on a bass guitar), but when was the last time you saw a band break a bass string on stage? Orzel was commendably fast in removing and replacing it, and it was only a minute or two before all four closed the evening out with an absolutely blistering “I’m Taking the Train Home”. It wasn’t just the band’s ‘about to go back to Scotland’ situation that gave “Home” that extra edge; the most powerful line wasn’t Graham’s cry, “Why can’t you come home?!?”, but his simple, sweet, and utterly touching, “And your green eyes turn to blue”.
Despite some less-than-impressive lighting effects (about halfway through, it seemed like the folks at Music Hall just gave up on special effects and turned on the house lights), The Twilight Sad had a great presence on stage, from playing-in-his-socks-Orzel to Graham, who, when not horning in on Devine’s drum set, had an evocative face and gyrations, bringing to mind stellastarr*’s singer/guitarist Shawn Christensen (an especially fitting comparison, as stellastarr* lead guitarist Michael Jurin was in the crowd – with the “Fuck you, Andy!” woman). The Twilight Sad closed out September on a sad note, but its resonance was one that will carry long through this autumn and winter.