Review: Masters of ambient pop Cigarettes after Sex are superb at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

By Christopher Knowles
December 31 2019, 08.40

Cigarettes after Sex have mastered the ambient, reverb-soaked pop song.

The way their riffs and evocative verses melt into a gloriously warm chorus makes them the perfect band to see on a sombre and inclement Thursday in Shepherd’s Bush.

There was no support act for Cigarettes after Sex, which was a shame. But in place of a support, the band screened a wonderfully pretentious arthouse film.

As the oblivious crowd supped, on the backing of the stage, a fixed shot of a grey horizon was blurred by sheets of rain. The caption read: “Everything is wrong, but it’s OK.”

As the interest of the crowd piqued, the profile of a heroine gazed upon a setting sun, mist sweeping across the expanse of forlorn sea. The film continued to foreground the desperation of boundless distances as Cigarettes after Sex joined the proceedings.

The resonant and reverberating chords of Opera House opened the set. As the characteristically warm bass tones rolled into the track, the background film pictured waves consuming rocks and Cigarettes after Sex confirmed their mastery of the gentle but euphoric chorus. This was an opening track that would surely be on Ophelia’s playlist.

Considering the widely held view that Cigarettes after Sex have developed a sound that an unforgiving critic might term uniform, it was strange that the crowd was only truly receptive to the stand out tracks from the band’s eponymous first album. The band’s second album Cry is a welcome continuation of a beautifully crafted approach.

In the pre-smoking ban past, a band’s stand out tracks would be greeted with plumes of dubious smoke, but across the expanse of this crowd a constellation of smart phones met the wonderful Sweet. Greg Gonzalez swayed to the edges of the stage drifting into languorous guitar riffs.

Cigarettes after Sex finished with the superb Apocalypse, which had the feel of waltz beneath the depths of a black and white sea.

Couples embraced and the for the first time the crowd’s voice rose above the rhythm section. The film projected fire and innocence consumed as the symbolic entanglement of desire and destruction traced its final steps.

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