Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Concert Review: Cigarettes After Sex at Bayfront Park

If he weren’t an ethereal dream-pop vocalist, Cigarettes After Sex singer/songwriter Greg Gonzalez could have made a great stage hypnotist. His ability to envelop a crowd in a woozy trance is one of his band’s signature elements, as evidenced by his trio’s debut Miami performance last night.

Absent rock-star swagger and offering the bare minimum of stage banter between songs, Gonzalez lacks the charisma of the traditional pandering frontman. His appeal, and by extension Cigarettes After Sex’s doggedly consistent sound, is understated and pure, as if the wallflower at the dance were invited to perform, only to win over the popular kids with voice and sonic texture alone.

The band’s mysterious magic manifested before the show started, in the sticky, gnat-laden environs of Bayfront Park. Thirty-five minutes prior to showtime, hordes of mostly young fans, invariably dressed in black (like the band), bolted from their seats to the front of the stage following an unspoken cue, all to be just a few inches closer to the action. Many of them shrieked with anticipation whenever a crew member appeared from backstage, or a sound guy tested an instrument. The vibe was very Beatles-in-1963, something I’m not accustomed to experiencing at indie rock shows.

This crowd was hungry for what Cigarettes After Sex was selling, in other words, and Gonzalez, bassist Randall Miller and drummer Jacob Tomsky were happy to satiate them. Drawing from the group’s two LPs and various singles, the band performed in its trademark smoky haze, with obtuse triangles of light from above and below strategically emblazoning the choruses. Film noir has often been invoked to describe the group’s cinematic sound, and it’s even more apt in live performance, where the only colors are black and white, from the vacant stage décor to the videos occasionally projected behind the band: Shots of moonlight on water, a flurry of snow, a greyscale rose caught aflame, a close-up of the French actress Anna Karina crying in a theatre from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Vivre Se Vie.”

Such moody accompaniment was always welcome, because it helped bring some distinction to an evening of material that otherwise flowed like a serene river, sometimes to a fault. As much as I enjoy Cigarettes After Sex’s sound, it’s beginning, after some seven years, to feel a bit rote: three musicians, Quaalude tempos from a simple rhythm section, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus formulae. I was hoping for a bit more experimentation in a live setting, but the songs were airtight replicas of their recordings, seemingly down to the second. A little more instrumental color in Cigarettes After Sex’s palette could go a long way, should the band wish to evolve beyond its present paradigm. I couldn’t help but speculate how a piano would sound here, or a saxophone solo would sound there. Certainly the band’s influences, from Julee Cruise to Cocteau Twins, embraced a more dynamic aesthetic.

But what do I know? It’s a day later, and I can’t get their songs out of my head. And there were moments of transcendence that added distinction to the sameness of the instrumentation: the fans’ infectious swaying of cell phone lights during “John Wayne”; the blanket of blissful warmth that seemed to accompany every note of the appropriately titled “Sweet”; the boundless euphoria of “Heavenly,” illustrated with a sunrise cresting over an ocean; light cascading off the disco ball from the ceiling of the stage during “Apocalypse.”

And on “Dreaming of You,” accompanied by imagery of a lightning storm silently crackling over a cloudy sky, we received its equivalence in a jolt of instrumental variation: a welcome eruption of noisy, Jesus & Mary Chain-esque distorted guitar—as if the hypnotist suddenly snapped his fingers, bringing us out of the dream. I for one was happy to be roused from the reverie.


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John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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