This may be the last time we get to see Cigarettes After Sex in a small club.
One does not typically make out at a slowcore show. However, Cigarettes After Sex has found a way to make downbeat music with a heart–albeit a broken one. It didn’t take long during the band’s Portland show for the two beautiful women in front of me to turn and face one another. With moony smiles and loving eyes, they mouthed the lyrics in romantic unison and swayed in private rapture. Other people may have surrounded them. In fact, the show was sold out. Yet, the couple glowed as if only they existed beyond the music.
Cigarettes After Sex may have been around since 2008, forming in El Paso before relocating to Brooklyn, but the band has just released its first LP this year. Truly a millennial success story, Cigarettes After Sex’s 2008 EP suddenly gained traction on YouTube, opening new doors for the band to tour and record. Now, Cigarettes After Sex is selling out clubs.
Reminiscent of Yo La Tengo at its quietest, combined with the slow burn of Mazzy Star and the confessional lyrics of early the xx, Cigarettes After Sex played an atmospheric 75-minute set. With only the self-titled LP and its I EP under its belt, the band didn’t pad its set with covers beyond a slow take on REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You.” The live versions of the songs didn’t stray much from the recorded iterations, but the concert provided a good introduction to this up-and-coming band.
Singer and guitarist Greg Gonzalez, bearded, slight and clad in black, sounds like a wounded Stuart Murdoch. His gentle vocals floated above the dreamy music. Gonzalez seemed like a reluctant performer as his between-song banter was difficult to discern. To his right, keyboardist Phillip Tubbs stood stock still, often playing with just one hand. A screen stretched out behind the band with arty black and white footage projected onto it. Gonzalez’s shadow often joined the film, as if he stepped out of a lost ‘60s French film to sing to us.
Although the chatter of a few rude attendees sometimes broke the spell, the show played like a cohesive whole rather than a disparate list of songs. True, each one more or less shared the same tempo, but that sustained the dreamy mood that hung over the club. Song such as “Sunsetz” and “Each Time You Fall in Love” were evocative and even transporting while “Apocalypse,” which closed the first set, was absolutely haunting.
Based on the reaction of the crowd on Saturday, this may be the last time we get to see Cigarettes After Sex in a club the size of the Doug Fir. Listening to the band in a seated venue could be appropriate, but then it is more difficult to affix your gaze on a loved one, and sway.