This review was first published on the Sunday Times of Malta’s Culture section.
Two recent acoustic performances by Scottish post-punk band The Twilight Sad at St James Cavalier, Valletta, did a lot to restore my faith in local demand for what I like to call non-popcorn music events.
The band, which won the award for Best Scottish album with their latest album Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave in 2014, was hosted by Hairyamp Promotions, which was also responsible for bringing to Malta other artistes known for pushing the boundaries of music, like post-rockers Eimog, experimental rock band Tall Ships and arthouse blues purveyors Joe Gideon and the Shark.
Many of those who look out for concerts that bring together Maltese and international talent from the indie scene will have noted the return of Hairyamp Promotions with pleasure, as the duo has a reputation for managing to secure the hottest, Stereogum-tipped names.
This time round it was no different as The Twilight Sad delivered and then some more, with a very intense, stripped-back concert in what must be a singularly evocative performance space.
Different Maltese artistes opened for the band on each night. This is another trademark that Hairyamp Promotions events tend to carry and one that I take pains to highlight.
Their Nil By Mouth sessions, the absence of which left a gaping hole on the scene, showed a laudable faith in Maltese musicians that was previously unprecedented by other promoters, offering even those bands and solo artistes with limited experience in live concerts the opportunity to perform alongside names that were already influential on an international level.
Yews. Photo: Mark Pace
The opening acts involved Maltese musicians that boast a loyal fan-base; Yews (the London-based Yasmin Kuymizakis accompanied by Marie Borg from Stolen Creep, Francesca Mercieca from The Fuzzhoneys and Aidan Corlett in her debut gig) on Friday and Clandestines on Saturday.
I attended the Friday concert, where Yews treated the audience to an exquisite set featuring tracks from her EP Selene, as well as some new work.
The formation was different from previous Yews performances I attended and I have to say that the experiment worked, with the stripped down setting adding considerable pathos to the sound and the chemistry between the singers working out to great effect.
Yews closed off the set with a new, unfinished track titled Waste of Space. The track carries Yews’s signature ethereal, electronic-pop sound, with the initially mellow feel building up to a gorgeous, synth-laden explosion.
Yews turned out to be the perfect introduction to the emotional-roller-coaster that was to be The Twilight Sad performance.
Again, the venue was a good choice. No matter where people sat they didn’t lose out on the feeling of intimacy.
For the Malta events, the band was playing in its basic three-piece line-up, with Andy MacFarlane on guitar and Mark Devine on keys accompanying vocalist James Graham.
The set-list included tracks from all their albums, with pieces like I Became a Prostitute, Last January, Drown So I Can Watch and Another Bed gathering the biggest reactions from the audience.
My personal highlight of the night was Mapped By What Surrounded Them, not one of their most popular tracks, but its poignant refrain gets me every time. The reduced set-up worked extremely well, allowing for the intensity of the vocals to have more of an impact than, perhaps, when the band plays with a bigger line-up.
A sound glitch on their third track was dealt with in an extremely professional, and entertaining, manner by the band and it was very refreshing to see that these musicians have no truck with the diva personalities that so many from the non-mainstream scene cultivate.
A final note – both nights were sold out and I was happy to note that the audience was not limited to the usual score of faces that tend to dominate this type of event.
The demand for genuine music that is not all about the shine and the packaging is there. It just needs a little push in the right direction and more organisations like Hairyamp who are willing to take a gamble.
The Twilight Sad concerts were supported by the British Council. The next Hairyamp Promotions event takes place on February 28 and headlines UK goth-rock band Esben & The Witch, with The Violent Violets and Krishna opening.