February 5, 2011
On stage there are three men (one with a fur hat), and a young woman in a punky outfit behind the synthesizers. In the audience there are youngsters with oversized shirts, teenagers/people in their mid-twenties with hip haircuts, and the somewhat older, more bohemian looking 20-somethings (going on 30): Nijmegen isn’t exactly an industrial city, but it has always seemed far removed from being the Arts & Culture capital of even so much as The Netherlands, let alone the world. Take a picture at this gig though, frame it, and let it go around the world and one would think it the place to be. A good sized crowd has gathered to see upstarts Twin Shadow play in the small club Merleyn, and both band and audience form a capsule of what a small-sized gig by a young band should look like.
Somehow, somewhere, Twin Shadow has gained sufficient hype to sell out multiple dates in The Netherlands. He released his critically acclaimed album Forget last year, and now he is touring Europe in support of it. I say “he” because the album, in essence, was a one man tour de force by George Lewis Jr., who basically recorded every sound on it. Touring he has the help of a bassist/keyboard player, a drummer, and someone behind the synths. He himself stands centre stage with a guitar and a microphone. To give the band extra cachet, the album was produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear at the time the latter were hotter than hot with Veckatimest. Perhaps that is where the popularity comes from, because the venue is more known for giving upstarts a chance to play than for actually selling out. Somehow, though, people caught wind of this, and next to flocking to this gig the other gig in the country has sold out as well.
In about an hour the band goes through the songs on the album, which has been labeled as having a sort of Romanticist feel to it. What draws attention from the get go is the front man’s sufficiency on the guitar. Now, don’t expect him to churn out a fifteen-minute solo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he could in fact do it. Whether a Twin Shadow gig is a time to do it is another matter, and probably the answer would be “no”, since the songs are beautiful little songs of about four minutes. To go off a la the Kings of the Blues would probably kill the dreamy momentum and the swaying of the audience. After seeing him live it certainly isn’t surprising to me that he did almost everything himself during the recording. Whether his vocals are classically trained I wouldn’t dare to say, and if you are a purist you might sometimes have an issue with it. He’s got a warm voice though, and live he on about three occasions gives in to the emotion a la a Murray Lightburn of The Dears.
With only one album there, the likelihood of your favorite song to be played is pretty gigantic. ‘Yellow Balloon’ is really nice, but perhaps the highlight is the title track of the album, ‘Forget’. I guess it normally would be the end of the regular set, but since you have to go through the crowd and back if you want to do an encore at this venue it is played before the “encore”, as in, before the last two songs. ‘Forget’ is a beautiful, slow paced song where his warm voice sings “This is all of it, this is everything, I’m wanting to forget”. Absolutely brilliant. Twin Shadow decides to end on a more funky note though, and at one point I’m thinking that a 15-minute funk guitar solo is going to part of the gig after all. However, George Lewis Jr. decides to opt against it and not go there. It would’ve been fun though, probably more as a novelty act than as an actual end of the concert.
At the end the crowd gives him a standing ovation, that is, if the venue would’ve had seating. It doesn’t, so everyone is standing already, but it certainly is more of an ovation than an applause. The singer thanks the crowd, also adding just how special it is to come into a city you’ve never been before and then to find the venue has sold out. He seems genuinely grateful for it, though perhaps it’s just the lightning that gives him a twinkle in the eye. Perhaps it is just a bit of poetic license, but the rest of this account is pretty factual I think: good crowd, good songs, and a grateful band playing them. That’s a good result on any given night.