From start to end, The Twilight Sad (their name comes from a Wilfred Owen poem), gave it their everything. Kicking things off with ‘There’s a Girl in the Corner’, the marching drumbeat accompanied by minimalist, haunting guitar noises and the most mesmerising instrument of the night: James Graham’s voice.
Never missing a note, sounding as poignant when he’s bawling into the mic as when he’s softy singing, he swims through every line with complete cool and ease.
You’re not coming back
You’re not coming back from this
The rolling Rs that punctuate Graham’s Glaswegian tones carry the songs up and out of post-punk predictability towards something approaching Scottish folk. It’s his accent that makes The Twilight Sad what they are; the broodiness of the music playing second fiddle to Graham’s dark poetry, the tragic themes touched on in nearly every track and his forceful delivery.
The lyrics speak of violence, unhappy home life, childhood and unlucky love
The lyrics speak of violence, unhappy home life, childhood and unlucky love. They transport you back to situations you may not have experienced but, as when watching a particularly gripping soap opera or kitchen sink drama, can immerse yourself in if you choose to. From ‘That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy’:
Kids are on fire, in the bedroom
The cunt sits at his desk
And he’s plotting away
Graham’s onstage convulsions aren’t a far cry from Ian Curtis’ epilepsy dance circa 1978
Aside from the Scottishness, musically, the Joy Division comparison is inevitable. Graham’s onstage convulsions aren’t a far cry from Ian Curtis’ epilepsy dance circa 1978 either. The band’s performance with him up front is both trance-like and entrancing, the energy he embodies filling the room. The crowd manage an unfortunately rare feat for a small Berlin show such as this in Privatclub: there’s whooping, cheering and dancing. I assume the people in question are Scottish and English rather than German, though that might say more about my prejudices than anything else.
Graham is obviously impressed with the enthusiastic reception. “This is brilliant. We’ve been doing this for four albums and it’s not like this every night,” he says to his adoring crowd, exuding adrenaline-based euphoria. “If it was, we’d do it for the next four as well.”
Crowned as having the “Best Scottish Album of 2014” by The Scotsman
Those four albums, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, Forget the Night Ahead, No One Can Ever Know and Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, have been enough to cement them in the hearts and minds of post-punk fans in their native Scotland and further afield. What their music hasn’t allowed for so far though is major commercial success, despite selling out the Glasgow O2 venue in December of last year, being written about in the Guardian, being crowned as having the “Best Scottish Album of 2014” by The Scotsman and making Latitude Festival’s bill in 2015.
“This is the first time we’ve sold out a show in Berlin, thanks to every single one of you,” Graham beams. Something tells me it won’t be the last. “Without you, it’d be shite.” Cue the eruption of rapturous laughter. “I’d be up here acting like an arsehole on my own. I wish this wasn’t the song I was dedicating to you but it just came into head. This one’s called ‘I Became a Prostitute’.”
You are the bearer of a womb without love
You could have had it all
The standout track for me is ‘Cold Days at the Birdhouse’. Starting with Graham singing solo before exploding into a wall of sound, it’s the perfect mix of darkness and light that defines the entire night. It’s the continuing fights (strength versus vulnerability, happiness versus sadness, and lighthearted jokes versus melancholic melodies) that keep the audience in the palm of their hands.
And your red sky at night won’t follow me
Graham later introduces ‘I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want’ with, “But hopefully you do want it.” Again, cheering and applause. Of course we dae, as he would say.
Review by Hayley Pearce