“You only fuck for love,
Told me you could never get enough,
Posing as a Playboy centrefold,
You could be my Penthouse pet, I know.”
The opening words of the show. But they weren’t uttered by Cigarettes After Sex singer Greg Gonzalez at Albert Hall in Manchester.
Just after half past eight, a black and white scene appeared on a screen behind the stage. A single row of metal railings, separating the street from the waves crashing against the shore. Line by line the words – the lyrics of You’re the Only Good Thing in My Life – appear, accompanied by atmospheric piano chords, eerie female harmonies and the beat of pouring rain.
Where most bands use a supporting act, Cigarettes opted for an atmosphere better suited to the title credits of a Nordic noir thriller on the BBC.
As the show went on, it became increasingly clear that the Texan four-piece are not like most bands.
Arriving on the darkened stage, clad head to toe in black, they launched into their first, haunting number with little ceremony.
Each song followed with minimum fuss. There were no outrageous on-stage antics, few pauses to chat, no forced audience call and response. Just song, applause, song, applause. The closest we got to interaction was a thank you for being here and the name of the upcoming song.
We paid to hear their music, so that’s what we’re going to get.
As we whistled through the songs, a mixture of old favourites and new material from their 2019 album Cry, they all blurred together.
Each one is constructed of the same five ingredients – a deep bassline that reverberated under the floor, solemn keys, a strong drumbeat, spidery guitar melodies and slightly unintelligible vocals.
That isn’t intended as a criticism. Cigarettes are described as having a dream-like musical style. Aided by Gonzalez’s androgynous vocals, which transport the listener to an ethereal place, they achieved this with ease. The blurring of the songs merely added to the illusion.
Closing number Apocalypse, from their self-titled debut album, was perhaps the stand-out song of the night. Featuring a delightful false finish which had the audience prematurely on their feet, they played the track at a slightly faster tempo than in the studio which contrasted beautifully with the rest of the setlist.
Accompanied by the strobes illuminating one by one, we were brought slowly into the light, waking from the dream and back to the reality of a dark Manchester evening.
Like a post-coital cigarette, the band are an acquired taste. You can’t really sing along to them. Their music doesn’t lend itself to dancing.
But, if you want something mindless to listen to, something that gets inside your head and leaves you feeling refreshed, a band that just wants to share their music, they’re the group for you.