It's always a good sign when the entire crowd rushes the stage as soon as the opening band walks on. Such was the case at Daniel St. for the The Twilight Sad and Mono show. I was new to The Twilight Sad, though I seemed to be entirely alone in this regard--at least half the crowd came to see the Scottish shoegaze outfit and they didn't disappoint. To begin with, I'm just a sucker for that guitar sound--you know the one--that defines shoegaze almost as much as that annoying doomp de doomp de doomp defines reggaeton. But there's something about The Twilight Sad that sets them apart from other bands of their ilk. There's a sincerity and an earnestness to their music. James Graham serves as the group's dedicated vocalist and his stage antics sold me on the band almost as soon as I heard his voice. There's a life to him that spills out immediately into the audience. At the end of each song he lets out a faint smile, as though to say "Man, that was fun, let's do another." This is the kind of band you see live with the hope that they'll be sticking around after the show for a drink, just so you can buy them a round or twelve. Plus, it doesn't hurt that they all sound like Groundskeeper Willie.
That said, there were moments in their set when I was less than impressed. Though I've never seen them live, I get the sense that they were catering to the Mono crowd and opening songs up a bit. The resulting soundscape was complete (aaah, I love that guitar distortion...), but I often lost a coherent sense of song structure during these bits. If you're a band that writes phenomenal songs, sometimes it's best just to do your thing and not worry too much about what the next guy's up to. But it hardly detracted from the show at large, and by the time The Twilight Sad were winding up their set, the dude next to me was yelling "Birdhouse! Play fucking Birdhouse!" so insistently that they had no option but to play the damn song. And it was good, real good. The song's actually called "Cold Days from the Birdhouse," and it's a good place to start if you're not too familiar with The Twilight Sad. It opens with an ambient build, and a traditional vocal melody that gives way to the band's typical blend of earsplitting guitars and charmingly Scottish accents. For people who hate Coldplay on principle but need a band to love that satisfies that same itch, check out The Twilight Sad. But if you're doing a web search for the band, I'd recommend putting quotes around their name, as Google likes to correct "Sad" to "Saga," and that leads down a dark and scary path. You've been warned.
Those of you who missed the show on Saturday should pick a city on this list and fly/drive there immediately. I've seen many good concerts in my life; I've even seen a good number of great concerts; but I've only seen a handful of truly-spectacular-once-in-a-lifetime-blow-your-mind concerts. This was one of them. In fact, I'm fairly sure that every single Mono show is a truly-spectacular-once-in-a-lifetime-blow-your-mind concert. Imagine if you did nothing but go to Mono concerts! You'd never be able to see live music again! But I digress. Mono is a Japanese instrumental post-rock band, renowned for the emotional intensity and musical complexity of their extended compositions. They played for 90 minutes with only the smallest breaks for instrument changes. Their set is a careful study in tension and release. At its quietest points, Mono's music was soft enough that I could hear people talking on the opposite side of the bar. At its loudest points, my ears could no longer process sound in certain registers, and the resulting distortion created an abiding level of (surprisingly) musical static that served as a de facto backdrop to the piece's overarching musical themes. On certain wind instruments if you play a note and hum a second note at the right frequency, the subsequent vibrations create a third, "ghosted," note--a sound that's not actually played but is nevertheless produced as a result of a previous harmony. It's easy to hear whole choirs in Mono's music, teams of a dozen drummers each, even orchestral string sections. But really, it's just two sweat-soaked guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer, communicating so intently that sounds layer upon sounds to create these imagined symphonies. A Mono show is a journey, and it's an intensely personal experience. Where I go during shows like this is my business, and where you go is yours, but the genius of Mono is that they take you anywhere at all. The show becomes about whatever you were thinking during the performance. Like sitting in the back row during an opera in another language, it frees your brain to mull over its nagging neuroses, fond memories, and unrealized desires. It's at once pleasant and entirely uncomfortable, and when it's all over, you feel as though a weight's been lifted from some hereto hidden part of your subconscious. I've never had a formal exorcism (I feel like you kinda have to know someone in the business), but I imagine it has much the same effect as a Mono show. I saw them play on Saturday. Today's Wednesday and I've done absolutely zero work other than writing this review. I feel...unburdened, and I blame/thank Mono. So go see them, whenever you can, wherever you can. Bring your troubles to the show, and Mono will whisk them away on a silver cloud--it's cheaper than therapy, but you might end up paying for hearing aids shortly thereafter. There's a reason the band sells their own brand of earplugs. Anyways, it's worth it. Go see them. Now.
Photos by John Kritzman