As with all forms of art and entertainment, music is always evolving. We’re fortunate enough in today’s age to have access to every possible genre at the touch of our fingertips. Our iPods are filled with everything from John Coltrane to Bach, from George Jones to The Band and even some Flo Rida. Among this cacophony of classes and styles emerges a band that sets the bar high for all other acts to follow. And this is what I witnessed at The National in Richmond on Monday November 26th when Civil Twilight crept out and took to the stage (opening for “Of Monsters and Men”).
They started off in a subdued tone, with the last track on their current album (“Holy Weather”), “Doorway”. Whether deliberate or not, it provided a sense of serenity. But the peace was short-lived. Once their chorus hits, you’re in deep.
It’s hard to believe that Civil Twilight only recently became a four piece band. They are Steven McKellar (vocals, bass guitar, and keyboard), brother Andrew McKellar (guitar), Richard Wouters (drums, percussion) and Kevin Dailey (keyboard, backing vocals). They played flawlessly together, as if they had been a cohesive unit for decades. They transitioned seamlessly into “Trouble”, where Andrew and his guitar appeared to become one organic entity on several occasions. Haunting sounds echoed through the old theatre as Steven moved the band into their third song for the night, “River” (the opening song on the album)…
“It flows between the hearts of stone, it flows in-between the bone. It has flowed sine the Divine Exchange. It flows forever unchanged.” – Civil Twilight
It’s hard to ignore the comparisons to U2, Radiohead and Muse. Yet they undeniably possess a strong freshness of their own. What struck me most was the rich, vibrant and alive sound pouring out of four young men who appeared minimally animated yet totally engaged. Occasionally, Steven would bounce around, but they all made it all look so effortless. Make no mistake – this is world class rock music.
Once again, the intro and opening verse of “Sweet Resistance” lulls you into an almost dreamlike state. Then the chorus smacks you upside the head, putting an abrupt end to your lazy slumber. And, yet again, Andrew gave his instrument a solid workout as he bridged the sonic gap towards the climatic end, ably accompanied by Richard’s relentless hard percussion. This is the kind of sound, feeling and vibe that you can only get from a live performance.
During “Letters”, Kevin and Steven swapped roles, and Andrew opened by performing an almost-magic violin act on his guitar. Hearing this song played live instantly transported me to the numerous times I’ve heard it used in recent films and high profile TV shows. It was easily recognized and greeted with the usual screams of a familiar live song. Cinematic in scope, “Letters” gently meandered between sensuous harmony and rapturous ecstasy.
By the last song, “Fire Escape”, Steven was back on vocals. It was upbeat, and took us straight in at the deep end with its high energy and persistent lyrics. Steven can reach the high notes like any other respectable rock band lead worth their salt. He belted through the song with a strong build up to thunderous crescendo at end.
Civil Twilight seem happy and unapologetic about bringing a familiar rock sound of the 80’s and 90’s kicking and screaming into the 2010’s. It’s a badge they wear with honor, pride, and quality. This is a genuine band, and you’d be wise to keep them on your radar. Now stop reading, and go out and absorb the sound of this exquisitely evolved rock quartet just as it should be: loud and hard.