Friday, September 7, 2007

the twilight sad @ cabaret voltaire, 9/4/07

what could it possibly be about glasgow that leads to its musically inclined youth to wave the moody banner of post-rock gloom? who knows, but those glaswegians certainly love their post-rock. two of the greatest post-rock bands around hail from that rainy city on the west coast, and the twilight sad are making their bid to become the third. well-known in the united states, thanks to ever-diligent bloggers, the twilight sad are still mostly unknown at home, despite the critical success of their full length debut, fourteen autumns and fifteen winters. therefore, it was surprising that they sold cabaret voltaire nearly to capacity earlier this week, which prompted lead singer james graham to remark that he was shocked so many people had shown up. unfazed by the crowd, the twilight sad aurally assaulted us for nearly fifty minutes without an encore, and it says something that they didn't need one.

if you've never been to cabaret voltaire (a fair bet), there are a few things you should know about it. first of all, it's a cellar. cramped, squat, and ill-designed to be a rock club, cab vol still enjoys some of the best shows from breakout artists passing through edinburgh. second of all, it's fucking deafening. studio b at least has an excuse for the volume; it's built to hold about four times as many people. cabaret voltaire just wants to make your ears bleed. hoping to leave without tinnitus, tearknee and i stuffed tissue paper in our ears, but we still heard the noise, loud and clear. the main downside of the volume (besides the damage) was that it blurred our senses - we were unable to distinguish instruments from noise.

the twilight sad is currently on tour around britain with frightened rabbit, fellow glaswegians who follow a little more in the steps of that other famous glasgow band, though they make sure to spice up their sound with a bit of that post-rock goodness, as befits any decent fatcat signee. though the volume ruined any possible nuances in the frightened rabbit sound, their straightforward, two-guitar-and-no-bass misery pop was rewarding and honest (and very scottish). the pop cop has an in-depth interview with scott and grant hutchison, the songwriter and drummer respectively, which showcases frightened rabbit's desire to write cheerful pop ditties with abject lyrics. they made some noise down at sxsw earlier this year, and are steadily growing as a band, with news about their fat cat debut and several festival appearances (including connect) fueling the flame. their appearance tuesday night certainly caught my attention. while they could do little to break the semi-circle of space uncertain crowds give to unknown bands, they played with visible energy and enthusiasm.

frightened rabbit's recorded songs rely heavily on sound layering, but they stuck to their guitars (eschewing keyboards, among other studio instruments) for the live act with no audible downside - if anything, their rawer sound was more appealing in such a small space. grant's drumming was distinct without being overpowering, seamlessly alternating between broad, intense swathes of melody and broody, introspective verses as his brother whispered and wailed into the mic. frightened rabbit sounded good, though blistering noise disguises all evils. they did their job well, though any opener in that cramped cellar suffers, and frightened rabbit were no exception. in a slightly larger space, or at least one with a better modulated volume, frightened rabbit could have easily won the room over. as it was, they showed promise and room for growth, and fatcat's re-release of their debut, sings the greys, should whet a number of appetites.

my main reason for checking the twilight sad out was to verify all the hype they've been generating, since the long-circulating mp3 of "that summer, at home i had become the invisible boy" hadn't really piqued my interest. their live show, however, had the most basic element missing from their record - volume. unlike frightened rabbit, the twilight sad was well served by the soundman's propensity for painful loudness, bringing their climaxes to ecstatic heights and dramatically highlighting the serenity of their more progressive moments. the volume did, however, have the side effect of burying graham's verses to the point of being nearly indistinguishable, so that his voice became an instrument and less of a counterpoint. musically, the songs were nearly exactly like their studio takes, with perfectly timed crescendos and orchestrated walls of sound - only once did the drummer have to face off with guitarist andy macfarlane to syncopate their next aural assault. however, there was an energy to their songs that the album lacks, a sort of recklessness that only comes with a live show that proves the twilight sad have more depth than fourteen autumns and fifteen winters displays.

as with all good post-rock bands, the twilight sad deal with polar opposites, and the effect that audible extremes have on the hearer. it says a great deal about the twilight sad that they can keep an audience's attention during the quiet bits, something even mogwai had a problem with at connect. graham's voice was laid bare during these sections, unsheltered by his bandmates' sweeping soundscapes, his thick accent contributing to its appeal. it is rare for accents to come across so strongly when sung, and, though graham's may have the flavor of the deliberate, it is still captivating and alluring. though he may be the speaking face of the twilight sad, it is not his voice that drives their songs - it merely adds to them. andy macfarlane, the twilight sad's guitarist, is clearly the mover and shaker in the band. he, with the rest of the band, remained stoic and unemotional during the gig, but his guitar clearly did his speaking. armed with at least eight different pedals, macfarlane launched ruinous waves of sound at us, sandwhiched between gentle melodies and epic distortion.

in retrospect, it seems odd that "that summer, at home..." was picked as fourteen autumns's first single, since, of all the songs the twilight sad played, it seemed to be one of the most lifeless. "and she would darken the memory," another 7", was much more violent and dramatic - on the whole, a better song. i would've paid a lot more attention to the twilight sad a long time ago if i'd heard that song first, with its anxious entrance and crushing conclusion. but even if i got to the party late, i'm glad i see the twilight sad's potential, even if it is clearest during their live performance. a bit of advice to the aspiring scotsmen - find a less polished producer next time. your sound needs more space to punish our ears, and fourteen autumns is much too restrained to do you justice.

see more twilight sad and frightened rabbit videos at my youtube page.

frightened rabbit - buy the single be less rude when it comes out on sept. 24 from fatcat, where you can stream it right now.

the twilight sad - buy fourteen autumns and fifteen winters from fatcat.

"and she would darken the memory"

"i'm taking the train home" (set closer)

1 comment:

David said...

Great review once again! =]

TTS have to be my favourite scottish band at the moment and I really think they could become huge given some time..

I've still yet to see them live but your review has definetly prompted me to catch them as soon as I can!

Cheers =D