Cigarettes After Sex at The Academy, Dublin, on 17th November 2017
On a crisp night in an increasingly wintry Dublin, Cigarettes After Sex did their best to recreate the dreamy warmth as if the crowd had just stayed in bed. This has been a breakthrough year for the gentle shoegaze project of Greg Gonzalez. Their debut album, of throwback down-tempo pop songs and intimate but vague lyrics, feels diametric to the prevailing winds of music in 2017. This show, like their album, is an exercise in tasteful minimalism. Cigarettes After Sex have one very relaxing gear, which they settle into and stay in serenely throughout their 14 song performance.
The band consists of guitar, bass, keys and drums, almost all of which shimmer with reverb. The star of proceedings are the melodies picked out by Gonzalez’s androgynous voice, stark against the the slow and deliberate guitar and bass lines. The instrumentation is so sparse that on the rare occasions that all four instruments are playing together it hits like an orchestra.
As on the album, the songs drift into each other seamlessly in a voyeuristic trip through Gonzalez’s stylised world of sex and solitude. The crowd quickly lock into the ambience as smoke machines cloak the musicians on stage. The spell is momentarily broken by the recognition of their unlikely cover, of Keep On Loving You by REO Speedwagon. Even this power ballad is quickly stripped back into the Cigarettes After Sex mould, the only concession being something approaching a traditional guitar solo, an ornamentation unlikely to feature on any other tracks by the Texan outfit.
Upgraded to The Academy from Whelan’s, and with a return date in the Olympia booked for the New Year, there is a danger that their delicate sound could get lost as the space gets bigger. For now though, the band largely succeed in transmitting their trademark intimacy: if it never quite feels like Gonzalez is whispering in your ear as on the album, he feels at least close enough to hear the earnestness in his voice.
The first big crowd reaction comes for K. But this is a Cigarettes After Sex show, so the reaction really consists of a few murmurs of appreciative recognition, before swaying with a little more intensity to the woozy melody. The song, an album highlight, finds Gonzalez replaying small significant moments from his relationship with a girl called Kristen.
They explore this impressionism throughout the live show; their background consists of a series of nearly still black and white clips. In one a disinterested girl looks impassively into the camera for several minutes, in another the sun threatens to emerge from behind a cloud but never does. This is the space Cigarettes After Sex like to occupy, forever on the cusp of something, in moments pregnant with possibility and mystery.
It’s an immersive set, that doesn’t quite ebb and flow but instead meanders in the same direction. Neither do the band say much throughout, wisely letting the focus remain on sustaining the atmosphere. The final two songs before the encore, Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby and Apocalypse, are the crest of a tranquil wave. Both are as beautiful and fragile as anything on the night, but bubble along at a slightly higher tempo. They rightly feel like the highpoint of their unique aesthetic.
A huge, warm reception has them return for an encore and they end with Dreaming Of You, from their debut EP. That record arrived some five years ago now, with an understated style already fully formed. In 2017, it is the sound of a band confident in their powers. It is a fitting way to end the show.