It has long been an ambition of The Twilight Sad to play Glasgow’s hallowed Barrowlands, and tonight, before a partisan home crowd, they finally make it a reality.
The performance, as such, has a certain weight to it, a raw emotion that potentiates the songs and tears down the invisible barrier between stage and floor.
The culmination of years of hard work and three stellar albums, you get the sense this night means an awful lot to them from the moment they first take to the stage.
The guys appear shortly before 10pm, and quickly the tinderbox is detonated, the group launching full tilt into stark opener ‘Kill It In The Morning’.
“Eerie as fuck,” comments a spectator nearby, and that sums it up well, the bass whumping out of titanic speakers and enveloping the ballroom in a brutal sonic diving bell.
The grim songs from superb third album No One Can Ever Know are prominent in the setlist, and singer James Graham is a mesmeric presence in the centre of the stage as he belts out the hypnotic ‘Don’t Move’ (“I’ll hurt you more than you will ever know”) before Andy MacFarlane (guitar) and Mark Devine (drums) strike up the familiar sounds of distorted guitar and rumbling drums for ‘That Year, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy’.
The folksier tunes from debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters offer temporary respite from the bombast of newer tracks, and the passionate crowd embrace ‘That Year…’ like the classic it is.
A Twilight Sad gig is an involving, cathartic experience, and Graham is assuredly one of rock’s most watchable front men, a performer whose very lifeblood seems to derive from the words he screams on stage, who convulses, gyrates and unravels behind a fog of diaphanous dry ice while visibly engaged with each and every song.
There is something almost perverted, certainly voyeuristic, about watching him immersed in the layered matrix of sound thundering from MacFarlane’s guitar – there’s no shoegazing, no prevarication, nothing at all half-hearted about any single gesture.
The interplay of staging and songs lends the set a sharpness in Glasgow tonight, with Twilight Zone-esque strobes slashing left and right as the discordant notes of ‘Dead City, Walking For Two Hours’ (the line “you’re so far from home” sounding almost ironical given the crowd’s fervour) and ‘Sick’ ring out.
Highlights come in the form of live favourite ‘I Became A Prostitute’ and ‘Another Bed’, the latter’s keyboard-heavy urgency prompting many people down the front to bounce on the balls of their feet.
Graham grasps the mic between songs and seems in awe of what is taking place, commenting more than once: “I can’t even believe this is happening,” and thanking people for coming along.
He seems similarly stunned when an impassioned rendition of ‘Cold Days From The Birdhouse’ prompts a hair-raising sing-along.
The crowd are on a hook, enraptured as Graham is moved to step away from his mic, head held high, processing the scene and applauding the diehards.
At one point he even pumps his fist into the air, utterly lost in the moment.
All Twilight Sad songs are LOUD, and the gig ends in just that fashion, feedback thundering out of the speakers to conclude ‘And She Would Darken The Memory’ and set closer ‘At The Burnside’.
The latter’s slowness is somehow fitting, as though all fibres had been exhausted, each molecule of energy wrung from the lads themselves, every song given ample room to bloom.
And so they depart the stage amid a hail of applause and an ear-piercing wail of distortion.
No encore – no need.
It is a joyous night, by turns uplifting and exhausting.
Let’s do it every December.
Words: Ronnie McCluskey