With the stage lights barely rising enough to make out any faces of the Texas band, and the music remaining in the air seemingly long after instruments have been played, tonight feels like a barely remembered dream at times. Easily selling out Brixton Academy after just one EP and one superb self-titled album, tonight is a night that confirms Cigarettes After Sex as a very special band indeed (if any proof was needed). Atmosphere is everything, with a mood-setting playlist replacing any need for a support band. Usually that feels self-indulgent, but here it feels the right decision.
As the four members of the band emerge from the gloom, they begin with album closer ‘Young & Dumb’. There is an instant perception that everything is happening at half-speed, each movement slow and methodical, frontman Greg Gonzalez slowly pacing around the mic stand. Though incredibly sparse, the light throws a beautiful backlight over the other band members, almost forcing the crowd to lean further towards the stage, deeper into the music. Even for those closest to the stage, so dark is it that many in the audience could have sat next to the band on the tube home and they would have been none the wiser. The use of lights and shadow are obviously reminiscent of The xx, a fitting comparison in this venue, and like them they show a complete mastery over musical tone and pace. Every melody or chiming guitar riff is met with huge cheers, the gorgeous melody of ‘John Wayne’ drifting over the crowd.
With a limited catalogue of songs (so far), the setlist tonight contains pretty much every song they have released. Never mind the quantity, though, it’s all about the quality. ‘Sunsetz’ hangs just out of reach, audience members blissfully swaying with eyes tightly shut, while ‘Flash’ brings every pair of arms up into the air. Played live, these are songs that crawl deep into your belly and refuse to depart. Gonzalez’s vocals have a rare ability to be both soft and robust at the same time, adding a slight honey-drenched crunch to the dreamy sound on display. The gentle, stomping drums of Jacob Tomsky and subtle synths of Philip Tubbs lie behind and beneath everything and ensure that the evening doesn’t ever slip into a soporific slumber, while Randall Miller’s bass adds a slow and seductive quality. Between the four, the sheer musicianship on display is breathtaking. The sweetly romantic ‘K’ feels like one of those dreams where you discover you can fly, while ‘Opera House’ is like a lullaby, holding the audience close while gently rocking them to sleep.
After their beautiful cover of REO Speedwagon’s ‘Keep On Loving You’, the night climaxes with the two biggest crowd-pleasers in ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ and, of course, ‘Apocalypse’. My overriding memory of this show will be of the crowd clutching each other in the dark, silhouettes moving slowly on the stage before the lights are finally turned up as the room turns into one huge spinning mirrorball revealing only blissful, upturned faces. A gorgeous evening of love and romance in the dark comes to an end, leaving behind a lot of memories for life.