Sometimes you need a good vouch from the right friends to get where you want in life. This was what decades-old British rock icons The Cure attempted for the younger Scottish band The Twilight Sad, whom I got to see live along with Small Planets at West Hollywood’s historic Troubadour this past Tuesday.
For those who don’t know, not long ago, the post-punk Twilight Sad were considering calling it quits as a band after eleven years together. Reportedly, they were feeling as if, their passion notwithstanding, they were just consistently getting eclipsed by contemporary bands like the Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks and in some cases newer ones. That was before they got the call to go touring with their decades older Gothic forbearers in 2016.
When asked why this undersized band, known by fans for its cryptic lyrics and dark oceanic vibe, was specifically handpicked for the coveted spot, Cure frontman Robert Smith, said, “They’re the best band playing the best songs—consistently brilliant, emotional, intense, inspiring, entertaining.”
With the group earning bonafide creds of that sort, most fans I spoke to Tuesday night said the same thing: They first learned of the indie band when they saw them open for the Cure when said tour wended its way through Los Angeles.
Consequently, now the intimate, tight-knit space within the moody venue—the name of which means a wandering musician—appeared close to full, upstairs and down. It should also be noted that the dark nightspot, which conjures images from Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Til Dawn and borders posh Beverly Hills since the 50s, has a reputation for playing a part in emerging major UK artists.
“We haven’t been in America since 2016. Sorry it took so long,” front man James Graham said to the crowd, which was comprised of everyone from children to those in late middle age. “But it absolutely means the world to us that you came out on a Tuesday night.”
The band, which has evolved over the years from more Cure sounding 80s-style decadence to something closer to Interpol guitar-eock, opened to “At Home I had Become the Invisible Boy.” Other highlights included “Last January,” “We have to Save Them All,” “Drown So I Can Watch,” “There’s A Girl in the Corner,” “Cold Days From the Bird House,” a song that one knowledgeable fan explained. It was the band’s early U2-like anthemic and impassioned chorus, helped get them where they are, he said.
That chorus: “You make it your own. But this is where your arm can’t go. You make it your own.” Graham’s unapologetically authentic, emotionally bare accented lilt rendered the fact that this band needed Rock big-whigs to step in on their behalf truly unfathomable.
The final song of the evening, a cover of “Keep Yourself Warm,” Graham said “is for our good friend Scott. Hopefully, you understand why we need to play this song.” He was referring to Scott Hutchison, lead singer to the Scottish folk rock group Frightened Rabbit. Hutchison committed suicide earlier this year.
“It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm.”
Graham’s oceanic brogue continued to reverberate against the dusty-looking walls, when all was said and done, ultimately diluting into ricocheting feedback for a few minutes after the band left the stage.
One of my favorite Twilight Sad songs, sadly, didn’t get any playing time. This song, “Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard” from their first album, 2007s Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, is distinct from much of their other more heavily saturated stuff.
The opportunity the Cure offered the Twilight Sad was paid forward by the indie rockers to the small Los Angeles-based band Small Planets, the evening’s openers. This group, too, has a little bit of a tragic inflection to their sound, but with a slightly more upbeat flow to their instrumentals. They also name the Cure as an influence, as well as the Cocteau Twins, another 70s through 90s Scottish pop-rock band.
Their overall affect was a guided intergalactic rotation through the dank-looking wood and brick haunt, and hopefully they can grow their following from here.
Words and photos by Ezra Salkin