Materializing out of the mist and shadows on the 9:30 Club’s stage, the four members of Cigarettes After Sex eased into a set that at once soothed and excited the packed house. Muted lighting and an uncluttered stage produced the perfect atmosphere for what was to come for the next 75 minutes on Monday.
Touring in support of their debut full length album, Cigarettes After Sex, released in June 2017, Greg Gonzalez and company set about their work with grace and precision. The first song, “Sunsetz,” set the mood for the rest of the evening: trancelike yet energizing. Jacob Tomsky’s spare drum kit provided a backbeat, and backbone, upon which the songs build and Phillip Tubb’s and Randy Miller’s solid backing kept the melodies moving.
But it’s Greg’s atmospheric vocals and delicate guitar, paired with lyrics that feel distant yet familiar, that evoked a cascade of conflicting emotions — joy and sadness; serenity and anger; peace and struggle.
An REO Speedwagon cover, “Keep on Loving You,” illustrated the dichotomy to which Gonzalez has referred to in interviews. By slowing down the song and removing its poppy vibe, a kind of desperation emerged in the REO tune. Yet in Cigarettes’ rendering the underlying sweet melody was unmistakable. The rest of the show’s songs (see set list below) followed the same format: a simple repeated melody that got into your brain and your heart, and didn’t leave. And after this night’s performance ended, many of us came away feeling as if we’d just experienced one long song that won’t be leaving our memories anytime soon.
You may have came to Cigarettes After Sex if you’re a fan of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” was featured in Episode 7, and judging from the song’s various YouTube comments, many viewers raced to their computers asking, “Who was that band?” Built on a similar vibe and melody as Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You,” it’s a gorgeous piece of music, filled with both longing and hope, as with most Cigarettes After Sex songs.
Here is Cigarettes After Sex set list for April 2:
Young & Dumb
Keep on Loving You (REO Speedwagon cover)
Each Time You Fall In Love
Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby
Dreaming of You
Cigarettes’ music is vaguely reminiscent of a host of influences including The Smiths, The Cowboy Junkies, and Red House Painters. But to this listener’s ears, the music falls somewhere in between the post-rock sensibilities of Explosions in the Sky and Signal Hill, and the soulful dreampop of The Blue Nile and Mazzy Star. Whatever the case, Cigarettes After Sex music is in a class of its own, wrapping a warm aural blanket around the listener that not even the minimalist melodies can chill.
Cigarettes After Sex world tour extends through August with many more U.S. dates still to come. Find them on Facebook or at http://www.cigarettesaftersex.com. Here are some pictures of Cigarettes After Sex performing at 9:30 Club on April 2, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.