Nobody wants to admit they like slow melancholic dream pop accompanied by projected images of beautiful crying women and arthouse black and whites of snowy New York apartments. But they’re lying. Cigarettes after Sex, touring their debut self-titled album in Dublin on Friday night, provide exactly that, and go down a treat.
Lead singer of the dreadfully named band, and must be said, musical genius, Greg Gonzalez is a serious man. He sings with his eyes closed, expressionless, and barely moves between songs. You might think he is scorned for his behaviour, but the crowd adore him. Between songs are huge applause accompanied by the screams of impressed fans eager to see these new tracks performed live.
Gonzales certainly has the songwriting gift, layering up shiny guitars on top of brooding keys, creating dreamy melancholia somewhere in the ether where Mazzy Star meets Beach House in an alternative 1989. But more importantly, the music reaches another level through the instrument of his remarkable voice, which is androgynous and moody, beautiful and holding. His lyrics are bizarre and weak in parts, but the nature of the songs – much to his disappointment I’m sure – is that listeners will not usually decipher the words amongst the gentle wall of sound that is the debut album. That’s just the way music works sometimes.
Halfway through tonight’s set REO Speedwagon’s ‘Keep On Loving You’ is a fabulous cover, possibly better than on record. ‘Affection’ is stunning, and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby‘, is popular with the fans (trivial note: the latter sounds like The Pretenders’ ‘Back On The Chain Gang’, slowed down. Check it out.)
But overall there’s a problem with the set. The tracks on the night are repetitive, meaning the show is boring at times. It’s one thing to sit listening to Cigarettes After Sex at home writing at the desk or while walking to work, but a whole other thing to stand staring at this sameness for over an hour, especially with the repetitive drumbeat which persists through most songs. It’s funny how the very same qualities which make the album an absolute triumph, make the gig a tad laborious.
In stark contrast to Gonzales seriousness, during a few moments of accidental comedy the keyboardist is absolutely blasted by dry-ice at the right hand side of his face. His faux-pose, which he has taught himself, keeping his left hand dangled low as his right drones out the single keys, is also amusing. At the same time, on the other side of the stage, the bassist plays notes which he has presumably learned by instruction. All the while, Gonzales – the instructor – stays centred with his guitar.
Disappointingly, despite a musically perfect performance, the band don’t dip much into their back catalogue of old demos, which include a host of acoustic driven pop-gems often bringing The Smiths to mind. Looking at a YouTube interview, Gonzales now proclaims these old tracks as merely a part of his history. But that’s a real pity, because those songs – which are a completely different style to that of the new album – would make a great live set. Check out ‘You‘ for example.
Tonight the crowd love Cigarettes After Sex. The band are extraordinarily tight and the gig does exactly what it says on the tin. As fellow State contributor Graham Mooney commented, “no alarms and no surprises – but still good.”