LIVE: The Twilight Sad, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

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By Hollister Dixon

A little over a year ago, a strange thing happened: The Cure, the unbeatable godfathers of poppy goth brilliance, covered “There’s a Girl in the Corner,” the opening track for The Twilight Sad‘s 2014 album Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. While The Cure didn’t break apart the song in a way that transformed the song into something wholly unlike the original, their cover of “Girl” was a weird moment of game respecting game. For nearly a decade, The Twilight Sad have built an identity around loud, breathtaking, masterfully-done sadness rock, operating as the missing link between the songwriting chops of Arab Strap and the near-deafening sonicscapes of Mogwai. They’re an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” band, where every release serves only to tighten their core aesthetic, rather than radically alter it. As such, despite their debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters being their most complete sounding record, they’ve done nothing but get better as songwriters and musicians since then.

I’m undeniably an insufferable acolyte of James Graham and his brand of Scottish dourness right out of the gate when Fourteen Autumns was released, it took me until Nobody Wants to Be Here to finally see the band perform. What I lost in time I’ve made up for since, having seen them four times since that record’s release. I’ll get something out of the way now: if you’re on the fence about The Twilight Sad, seeing the band in a live setting will convert you. The tightness of this band as a live entity is an ever-swirling tempest, and Graham performs like a man possessed by the relentless spirit of his own music. What he’s doing isn’t preening. He doesn’t strut, he doesn’t show off. His mannerisms onstage almost border on frightening, as he thrashes and paces the stage, balling his fists, his eyes rolled back into his skull. It would almost be easy to wonder if he might be on drugs, but in between songs and offstage he’s magnetic bordering on effusive. It’s basically night and day.
One thing cannot be overlooked: for the last couple weeks, The Twilight Sad have been filling the role of opener for The Cure’s current arena tour, and despite only being on the road with them a few dates before their Doug Fir show, the experienced they’ve gained from playing in arenas has somehow managed to somehow make them an even better band – all the same pieces are there, but they’re tighter, louder, and more dynamic than they are on the record.. I’m a big fan of this band, but they’re an often overlooked and unheard band, and the influx of attention and time spent in bigger rooms is doing nothing but strengthen what they have going for them.
At this point, four shows into this particular album cycle, I’m ready to see what the band has in store for us on their 5th album and subsequent tour. If I get a chance to see them before then, while I know that I will inevitably want to see them, I don’t know if I need to. Don’t let that dissuade you, however: if you’ve never seen Twilight Sad perform, or haven’t seen them in awhile, take any opportunity you get to see what they’ve got – especially in a small room. They’re one of Scotland’s best and brightest bands, and seeing them live is one of the best ways to experience them.
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