Scotland’s Finest: The Twilight Sad & We Were Promised Jetpacks @ Bimbo’s

11/06/2014

On Tuesday, the historic Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach hosted a dynamic double-shot of live music, with Scottish bands The Twilight Sad and We Were Promised Jetpacks filling the dark room with their distinct brands of affecting indie rock.

First up was The Twilight Sad. You know that paralyzing feeling you struggle with when you’re stuck under the blanket with an intense fever and the chills at the same time? If you could just take a hot shower, you might feel better, but the bathroom seems so. far. away. and the hallway is just. so. cold.

Occasionally, there comes a moment where you stop shaking, your temperature regulates ever-so-slightly, and you feel a splinter of strength- just enough to pry you from the fetal position, ease your death grip on the comforter, and pull yourself out of bed. You’re not better, you’re just strong enough to move and hopeful it lasts. It’s during that delicate moment of fragility, threatening to recoil sharply into freezing paralysis at any second, in which The Twilight Sad’s newest record Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave seems to have been recorded. And the live translation is spot-on.

Guitarist Andy MacFarlane’s style ranges from the echoing, melancholic strumming of Interpol and fellow Scots Frightened Rabbit, to the effect-laden wall-of-noise sound of My Bloody Valentine. Singer James Graham’s quivering, tormented vocals rise and fall like a ship lost at sea, and are matched by his dramatic on-stage gesturing. Writhing and mournful, you could really feel his pain while singing new song and set highlight “It Never was the Same.” He cradled the microphone like the bare skull of a fallen child while pleading “So we dance to save them all / We ask to save them all / We try to save them all / You didn’t have to kill them all.” This is an elusive brand of sonic sadness shared by Violator-era Depeche Mode. Dark, theatrical stuff, but goddamn if it isn’t wonderful when a group of artists can tap into this difficult, yet important side of the human experience and channel it so tunefully. The Twilight Sad live up to their name, but these are really good songs, performed with a commitment to the craft.

The Twilight Sad – “It Never was the Same”

Next up was We Were Promised Jetpacks. Also hailing from Scotland, they’re a far warmer live wire than their pals in The Twilight Sad. Providing some needed contrast, their skittery bursts of drums and guitar emanate a lot of energy and often find a nice, deep groove to settle into. The bass is heavier, the drums harder, and the vocals more powerful. That said, there’s plenty of wide-open space in their music too. Singer Adam Thompson regularly vacillates between a booming, resonant yell and a quiet whisper. Think the grungy, redheaded stepbrother of Local Natives. They played Bimbo’s back in February and debuted a couple new songs, so I was anxious to hear more.

With a good third of the setlist being comprised of material from their new album Unravelling, they didn’t disappoint, though there was an unexpected, uhm, early climax. The anthemic call-and-response of “Quiet Little Voices,” undoubtably the band’s most well-known song, came only 3 songs into the set, which felt odd and premature. The crowd, while jumping and singing every word, was visibly caught by surprise, and the moment seemed to pass too soon. It wasn’t until later that I understood why the band got it out of the way early.

The new songs are far more self-assured than their previous albums and showcase a band taking risks and expanding their palette. Midway through the set, after a joyride of familiar uptempo jams, came “Disconnecting,” a moody new track that begins with an ominous, deep piano and slowwww R&B style rhythm (remember D’Angelo? Yeah, like THAT slow). As the track progresses, Thompson gives us his best Matthew Bellamy falsetto as the song builds organically into a nocturnal, jazzy number teeming with sensual guitar swells and ringing piano arpeggios. It’s easily the most experimental, creative, and exciting piece of music the band has written to date. The crowd aptly went wild for this one, especially the ladies– lots of reverse catcalling going on here.

We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Disconnecting”


They closed the set with the cinematic, synth-drenched sky-scraping track “Peace of Mind,” the penultimate song from Unravelling. Melodic, ringing layers of guitar and bass are tossed into a washing machine with a synthesizer and all the watercolors in the world, then blasted off into space. If M83 and Sigur Rós conceived a child, the progeny might take this song to school for show-and-tell. The song carries a tone of final comfort and was a fitting way bring closure to an night full of emotional ups and downs.

Check out The Twilight Sad and We Were Promised Jetpacks live on tour here and here.

You can buy The Twilight Sad’s new record Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave here.

We Were Promised Jetpacks’ new record Unravelling can be purchased here.