REVIEW: Cigarettes After Sex at Great Scott (1/29)

Considering the mythos and a total of seven official songs to their largely online name, Cigarettes After Sex could’ve very well not shown up to their sold out Great Scott show and somehow maintained (or even gained) fans.

In a post-Death Grips/“not playing a show for art reasons or something” landscape, purposeful invisibility and mystique seems like it could outshine any earnest band’s best laid marketing plans, but Cigarettes’ dream pop by-way-of lounge act feels like a genuine example of throwing music into the void and having the void scream for a world tour.

After Greg Gonzalez released a sonically scattershot full-length under the Cigarettes name (now lovingly referred to as “the Lost Album” amongst fans), the Texas-bred songwriter regrouped in 2012 and recorded a leaner EP in a reverb-heavy El Paso staircase. The I. EP finally encapsulated all of the slow-burning instrumentals and ‘last call at a dive bar’ romanticism expected from a band named Cigarettes After Sex, but it floated online for three years before experiencing a belated surge of interest in late 2015 behind the enchanting opener “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby”. Gonzalez and co. are assuredly a underdog’s tale for the Bandcamp age, but what happens when an inherently nocturnal band is put under the (super dim, but still sorta visible) bar lights?

Opener Libsyd Read prefaced with hauntingly delicate vocals over the kind of ambient R&B that initially pulled How To Dress Well from the internet’s depths. With esoteric banter that came off as charming rather than alienating (“Did anyone recognize that 1800s hymn in there? Anyone?”) and a quick “thanks” to let the crowd know when each amorphous song had ended, Read seemed to grow more comfortable being the center of attention right before us, serenading their laptop before turning their gaze to the rest of the room.

Lit by mostly passing ambulances and car lights outside, Cigarettes’ first ever Boston set somehow managed to fully embody the presence of a band that sounds like the closers at The Roadhouse after Julee Cruise packs up for the night. Opening with “Starry Eyes,” the four-piece kept a relatively even tempo given that every song of theirs could be accurately described as a ‘torch song’, but the sustained moodiness only entranced, never bored. Gonzalez sounded massive even without a staircase to echo off of, longingly trailing each note of their post-punk-on-Nyquil bass work on highlight “I’m A Firefighter.” New songs like “Apocalypse” and “Flash” moved as lively as a Cigarettes song possibly could, extending the Beach House comparisons out while still existing in a universe all their own.

As the room swayed itself out to obligatory finale “Baby”, a lone iPhone flash lit up next to the stage, visibly startling the keyboardist before everyone involved laughed it off. A goofy crowd faux pas at most shows, the flash was the first time Cigarettes found themselves in stark light. Half the band smiled it off. Most kept swaying, mouthing the words drowsily along with Gonzalez. And the band remained in their self-imposed shadows as they departed in all black attire, even a stray iPhone light unable to deter their mysterious magnetism.

For more photos from the show, check out our slideshow below.