Given that the Twilight Sad sound so much like the music I remember listening to during the gothic phase of the 1980s, I was half-expecting the audience to comprise of people wearing black wedding dresses, tie-died shirts and 38-hole Doc Martens. They aren’t, not even in an ironic way, but they are a generous mix of young and slightly older camps. At least, the shimmering pates arrayed in front of me suggested as much.
Autumn Owls, give a fitting miserablist solo show in support, all minimal plucking an emotive drawling. It’s not quite as fitting as playing Joy Division over the P.A. just before the band take the stage, mind you. They play road-tight and intensely, under red lights that take on a sanguine hue, each member very much in his own world as the show begins to reveal itself. James Graham’s voice is far more ominous than the man himself looks, and when he talks to the crowd, it’s pretty clear the accent isn’t an affectation. It is a terrific tool he has.
There’s a moment during ‘Don’t Move’ when I begin to think that hidden within the walls of densely packed noise and the shimmering keyboards that, like almost every other single Scottish band before them (the Exploited aside), there’s some kind of arena-bothering mega rock wanting to emerge. It seems, watching them here in this bijou venue, that they should be playing to so many more people, in much bigger venues. There’s something about them that demands attention. I’ve no doubt that if they keep at it, in this vein, and with this kind of conviction, actual grandness may occur.
They may not even have to get the acoustic guitar out and write the song about the trails and travails of the ordinary working person on some bleak housing estate. When it happens it won’t be some Biffy Clyro scenario. Really, you can’t picture a gang of friends wailing Twilight Sad songs in awful unison as they stumble home from the pub. For a start, you can’t understand any of the words.
The crowd warm to the show as it goes on. Graham’s intensity helps. The lad is seriously into it, yelping off mike, so loudly that he can still be heard at the back of the venue. There’s no room on that stage, so he prowls and convulses a tiny part of it, mostly within himself. It’s no performance as such, it’s no Beyoncé, but allowing yourself to be so taken with your music is at least as spectacular as learning a plethora of dance steps and having a light show that costs half a billion quid. It’s better than that, much better. We, the audience, have invested in this music too, and it’s great to see that our investment is doubled, tripled, whatevered, by the guys we’ve come to see. This clearly means a lot to them.
Although, apparently it isn’t always the case. Graham tells us that last night’s gig was “shite” and that we’ve made up for it (Last night’s show was in Cork, since you’re asking.). They seem genuinely humbled that anyone in Dublin gives a crap about them, having not played here in five years. But everyone has enjoyed it, and they leave the stage to a great ovation. There’s no encore, which seems just about right. This was a good show, perhaps a little quiet given their past reputation for being loud, and despite the dark, incomprehensible nature of the music, the band seem eminently likeable. What gives, Cork?