The Twilight Sad at Mad Cool 2019: more like group primal scream therapy than ‘entertainment’

Robert Smith's favourite band deliver an overwhelming exorcism of emotion in Madrid.

There are some bands who have their stage moves choreographed like a ballet and banter scripted like a pantomime. The Twilight Sad are no such band.

As the huge crowd that fills out the modest Mondo Sonoro Stage at Mad Cool 2019 discover, The ‘Sad pull off something that feels more like group primal scream therapy than anything you might know as ‘entertainment’.

After the release of their acclaimed fourth album ‘Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave’ in 2014, the Scottish doom-rockers found themselves exhausted and a little rudderless. Then, The Cure’s Robert Smith was so enamoured with them he invited them on tour with his band for a few years, and spurred them on to make arguably their best work to date with 2019’s ‘IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL TIME’.

However, it was a period that also saw them deal with yet more stormy conditions, when they were shook by the death of their close friend, Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison. Their shows still seem to be an endurance test in and of themselves, but now it’s as if they’re fuelled by a duty to everyone who has kept them here – whether they’re in the room or not.

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From the muscular and industrial opener ‘[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs]’ and propulsive almost-pop of ‘VTr’, through to the chilling and vampiric ‘There’s A Girl In The Corner’, the band add a terrifying presence and much taller wall of sound to what they’ve achieved across five albums. They’re playing like they’re at all-out war, and with a confidence that would almost seem at odds with the vulnerability of their lyrics if you didn’t feel as if James Graham, a frontman with the arresting emotional abandon of Ian Curtis, was about either collapse or burst at any given moment.

For their penultimate track, they air their cover of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Keep Yourself Warm’, dedicated to Scott Hutchison, along with “anyone who loves F’Rabbits’ music or is yet to discover it”.

“This song is for a friend,” Graham sombrely concludes. With Graham howling “you won’t find love in a hole” and beating his chest as the band blast through their searing post-rock interpretation of F’Rabbits’ black-humoured alt-folk, you fully believe what he means when he told us that this now standard cover feels like he’s “talking to his friend every night”. His gaze lowers from the sky down to the crowd to see a tent full of fists aloft, flags waving and fans arm in arm, hollering back every word, before he bursts into tears. As personal and heartfelt as this is for Twilight Sad to perform, everyone is with them. I’ve no shame in confessing to being left absolutely in bits.

Ending with the aching and haunting ‘And She Would Darken The Memory’ from their cult favourite debut ‘Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters’, an extended outro sees Graham at his most possessed – jerking, stomping and twirling across the stage as if both enamoured with and fighting against all the elements around him. An overwhelming surge of love screams from the crowd while Graham just stands there, rubbing his face dumbfounded and struggling to fully voice his gratitude.

Check back at NME for the latest news, reviews, interviews, photos and more from Mad Cool 2019.

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