The Twilight Sad kicked off their US & Canadian tour at the Foundry in Philadelphia in fine style with a spellbinding, emotional performance that will remain long in the head and heart of those present. Coupled with a stunning, haunting support from the beautiful, inside and out, Kathryn Joseph we experienced a rollercoaster of a ride on the first night.
Kathryn’s frank honesty accompanied by eerie ballads dealing with love, hope and despair are a thing of beauty tackling the darkness and light we all possess. The appreciative audience hang on her every word as the intimate crowd huddle closer together as every song passes. You can hear a pin drop before and during each song before each and every song ends with the appreciative applause she deserves for such a stunning performance.
For some, travelling over 3,350 miles to see a band is seen as something as a form of lunacy but not THIS band. This band is The Twilight Sad, they’re from Scotland and they keep delivering performances that make you want to come back for more. People have travelled far for this first concert within the United States of America and also outside of it too. It’s not that difficult to see why. An audience of United Nations whipping themselves into a frenzy before the band have even walked on stage.
The band take to the stage to a deafening noise from the partisan crowd. Given that [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs] starts with a cacophony of noise itself you suddenly realise how loud and proud this audience are of seeing their heroes back Stateside. Not for the first time this evening James Graham looks visibly moved and we haven’t even heard a word come out of his mouth yet.
The opening line “We’re hanging on by a thread” is all it takes for the sound barrier to be smashed and the whole place to jump in unison. A mass of bodies bouncing off each other just like the music bouncing off all four corners of the venue. For the first time, and not the last, in the evening we see a caged, prowling tiger in James eyeing up the audience, weighing them up and with a glint in his eye of a man who wants to give the performance of his life on the first anniversary of long time friend Scott Hutchison’s passing. He doesn’t disappoint. There’s a lot of weight on James’ shoulders on this first, difficult night but you know, we know, Scott is watching somewhere and willing his friend on. “Why can’t you remember me?” concludes an emotional Graham. This crowd most certainly haven’t forgotten as they’ve waited patiently for The Twilight Sad’s return to the US.
“First song of the tour and I’ve broke the mic stand already” quips James in that dulcet tone of his before thanking us for “coming out on a Friday night to watch a miserable Scottish band”.
The double combo of Girl Chewing Gum and VTr offer no respite, if that’s what you were expecting then you’re at the wrong concert, as powerhouse drummer Sebastien Schultz and axe-man extraordinaire Andy MacFarlane shake it up further with a brutal assault on the ears and the body. Girl Chewing Gum is ferocious in sound as it is on James’ vocal chords. He screeches, he howls and when you hear him sing “put me in the ground” with such intensity it’s hard not to feel the emotions.
Sometimes life can feel hopeless but when you hear VTr , especially live, you get reminded of all the good things outweighing the bad. As James scowls and screams “there’s a monster inside of you, someone that you never knew” the crowd sing back tenfold. The crowd and band pull each other in all directions and when James hits you with that immortal line “there’s no love too small” you can feel the hope, and love, in the whole room but, in typical The Twilight Sad mode, they take you back down with “I won’t be surprised if it kills us all” just to remind you the fragility of life – that the fine line of everything being okay and it not being okay is miniscule.
Three songs in and the relentless nature of them can’t continue at this breakneck speed and The Arbor lets our minds wander and meander just like Johnny Docherty’s magnificent bassline although the intensity is more in the words rather than the sound giving the audience a chance to at least physically take a breather. As James, band and crowd sway in tandem this dreamy number is accentuated by Brendan Smith’s haunting synth and as James concludes “I watched you slowly slip away” there’s a stunned silence in the audience before an outbreak of frantic hollering, screaming and applause. Each and every song is a stark reminder to the listener and attacks the heart with such power you wonder how much more you can take.
As James rolls his eyes we are treated to the magnificent Reflection of the Television from the equally magnificent album Forget the Night Ahead. The unmistakeable intro is enough to cause a mass singalong…”There’s people downstairs…I’m more than a fighter you know” we sing, together, carrying each other and we’re nowhere near the finish line yet. James Graham and the rest of the band, as well as the audience, well…we’ve all been in our battles, typify what this band mean. The band is everything, and more, to many and the outpouring of emotion is what both band and fans feed on. A two way thing – without one the other is meaningless. There are tears, floods of them.
The opening to Last January always gets me. I can talk about the song, think about the song and hear the song and the goosebumps are out immediately. Live it has to be experienced. James jolts, jerks and gesticulates and like a boxer nimble on his feet floors you with blows – high and low. It’s too frenetic for many to take. Everybody wants to be here though and nobody wants to leave. “They say it can’t be won, when it’s your eyes touching my eyes” sings James and as he tells us “this isn’t you that I came here for, this isn’t you that I waited for” the applause is deafening as the crowd lift the roof off The Foundry. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of seeing a band in front of a US audience it’s moments like this that will live long in the memory…forever actually.
Sunday Day13 slows things down a little with its painful, harrowing lyrics. “You hit me too many times” ponders James in reflective mood. It’s bleak and it’s desperate as he asks “would you throw me out into the road?” you can feel him aching, yearning for reassurance as he tells us “it won’t be like this all the time”. The crowd, to a man and woman, are shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, willing him on, supporting him, getting him through the song (not for the last time this evening) as the pain etched on James’ face is palpable. Savour those good times, the bad times can be just around the corner and vice versa.
We are led into There’s A Girl In the Corner by Sebastien Schultz’s breathtaking drum intro. The heartbeat of the band, his drumming prowess keeps the Scottish quintet ticking as he pounds through the opening moments of the song. Just like all The Twilight Sad songs there are feelings of claustrophobia and this is gripping stuff. You can feel like you’re getting starved of oxygen taking it all in as there’s so many emotions that carry you through each and every song. “You’re not coming back…she’s not coming back”. James continues to tackle the demons inside all of us as well as himself. He confronts the crowd, face twisted, contorted, yelling, screaming, emotional outbursts taken to a new level. How much more can he give?
There’s something special about the opening night of a tour. The uncertainty of how things will pan out amongst an expectant, rabid crowd, putting more pressure on themselves than is necessary but that is The Twilight Sad way. They don’t want to let anyone down and they don’t. There’s a perfect triple whammy moment of songs from the latest album It Won/t Be Like This All the Time in the form of I/m Not Here [missing face], Let/s Get Lost and Videograms.
Andy MacFarlane scythes us down with those choppy, aggressive guitars in I/m Not Here [Missing Face]. Every note is like a sledgehammer and it’s relentless. “It won’t stop when the tears run dry” and there are plenty of tears. Resonating with the songs is what makes this band so special. They are open, honest, passionate songs which have the full commitment of the band. They refuse to hold back and the boundless energy transfers over to the ecstatic audience. As James screams “why do you do this to yourself?“ one last time it’s obvious…this is their livelihoods. It matters more than some will ever know but fans of the band get it and that is why the live show is like no other.
Let/s Get Lost doesn’t give you time to pause for thought or breath. It’s an undulating rollercoaster of a ride mixed with emotions of hope, despair, insecurity. The fragile nature of the song full of positivity and negativity. From “I’m losing you every day” to “I’m still yours” no wonder James is looking like a tortured soul on stage. Baring everything and giving absolutely everything. “You’re not the first run away from my words, deaf to everything I say” he shouts but the crowd hang on every single word, every single twitch, everything. It’s gut wrenching and it’s heartbreaking as the audience sing back “It’s just another heartache to me”.
The trio of latest release songs comes in the form of Videograms and that question we all need to hear the answer to during both the good and bad times. “Is it still me that you love?” asks James. The tears evident on the bravest frontman I think I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness live. The tears haven’t stopped flowing all night. How he has managed to get this far through the evening is testament to that inner strength he has. He has the back of his band and the audience too. They won’t desert him at any point.
Had this been a boxing match between band and crowd it would have been stopped by now but, like something out of a Rocky film, it is Philadelphia after all, this contest still has more twists and turns. James Graham picks himself up off the floor, accompanied by MacFarlane, Smith, Docherty and Schultz (in his corner) to give us a potentially lethal right-left combination to put us on the ropes in the form of Cold Days From The Birdhouse and The Wrong Car.
James looks battered, bruised and broken as he introduces Cold Days From The Birdhouse and he asks for assistance to help him get through the moment. He’s constantly thanking the crowd, humble as ever, appreciative of every single person in that room as well as those not even present who have been there for him and his band through its lifetime. It’s poignant, spine tingling and heart stopping to experience. And when the “red sky at night won’t follow me”. We’re in this together and don’t forget it is the message.
The Wrong Car is frantic and furious as ever. Fighting back the tears James looks demented as he puts the fanatical crowd in a lather, owning the stage, there’s roaring back and forth between James and crowd. Inevitably there’s more tears from both sides. This coping mechanism is what the band are about. We’re all safe in this room, together, as one. Be good to each other, always be there for each other, look out for one another. A simple but effective message.
It’s impossible to not feel this level of catharsis on a night like this. One year to the day since we lost Scott and as the opening notes of Keep Yourself Warm come it’s a time for release, reflection, memory. James looks up above and you know he’s thinking of Scott like everyone else in the room. We’re arm in arm, holding each other up, holding it together or trying to at least. It’s moments like this one saluting Frightened Rabbit and Scott that you realise you have a special family surrounding you. Brought together by the love of music and a connection with a band like no other really. We jump together as one, James pounds his chest and roars mightier than ever before. Where he finds this inner strength from I don’t know. He looks to the heavens one more time, shuts his eyes and displays the determination and courage that only a fighter can show.
The Twilight Sad gigs are merciless and unforgiving and as the bell finally rings for the final time on And She Would Darken The Memory we get James putting the boot in, Dr Martens too, as he screams in defiance “the rabbit WON’T die”. The irrepressible Graham becomes more beside himself, flinging himself about the stage almost colliding with band members a few times as the crowd hold their breath, exasperated by the sonic onslaught. James is finally on his knees again with nothing left to give. You can’t take your eyes off the enigmatic frontman and he’s left everything out on the stage, bared his soul and left the audience reeling. We don’t want the gig to end but it has to. There’s nothing left in the tank for anyone if I’m honest. The emotional rollercoaster of a night comes to a shuddering halt, as feedback hollers around the room and James and company leave the room to rapturous applause.
Emotionally the first night, and given the significance of the date, it was always going to be a difficult opening night. Travelling over 3,350miles an act of lunacy? To some maybe but those that understand the band and their brilliance absolutely not. To many this band are everything. They are the life, blood and soul that keeps them going. To others they are an extension of their own family and friends and it’s testament to the band that people buy into them. As their North American tour continues it’s important to realise that music matters. The Twilight Sad matter.
The Twilight Sad played [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs], Girl Chewing Gum, Vtr, The Arbor, Reflection of the Television, Last January, Sunday Day13, There’s A Girl In The Corner, I/m Not Here [Missing Face], Let/s Get Lost, Videograms, Cold Days from the Birdhouse, The Wrong Car, Keep Yourself Warm and And She Would Darken The Memory.
The Twilight Sad's official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.
Our review of the album can be found here.
Kathyrn Joseph's website can be found here and she is on Facebook and Twitter.
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