by Catalina Berretta
“This is a song about getting really wasted,” Greg Gonzalez, lead frontman and founder of Cigarettes After Sex told the crowd at Paradise Rock Club before the familiar notes of ‘Affection’ filled the room. For a first time listener, it may be hard to imagine any Cigarettes After Sex song sounding distinct enough to identify from the first bars, and yet the crowd surged forward with recognition, clapping and waving their hands in excitement.
Earlier that night, the band had emerged from behind a haze of white smoke, clad in all black, beer bottles held loosely in their hands. Opening with Truly, their demeanor matched their tempo, unhurried and unbothered. After Gonzalez had finished crooning “I just want to keep on loving you,” the last notes of their REO Speedwagon “Keep On Loving You” cover fading into the dark stage, he muttered a few words of greeting. Whatever those were. bland and nondescript, were immediately swallowed by the ambient noise of the room.
Cigarettes After Sex is not a band that would seek to interact with their audience any more than they’d seek to diversify their sound. Instead, they played song after dreamy song, wrapping us all in a cloud of dry ice and melancholy. This was a show for swayers and couples, with soft blue accents occasionally disrupting the mostly monochromatic lighting scheme. The difference between each song was virtually non-existent, but maybe that’s why we all stood rapt with attention. They’re one of the few bands who get away with the great crime that is a homogenous sound. Even though the subject matter may rarely change from love and sex, with lyrics as simple as “Know you don’t really need to be in love to make love to me” and repetitive chords, every person there didn’t dare look away, but strained forward instead, as if you’d miss something if you didn’t listen closely enough.
Even once they moved on to the most popular songs (‘Opera House,’ ‘Sweet’ and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’) there was no change in attitude from the black-clad figures on stage. The crowd continued to gushed along, moving back and forth to the unrelenting, minimalist drum beat. The band closed with ‘Apocalypse,’ whose slow melody somehow managed to echo the deepest heartbreak you’ve felt, with every guitar strum like a agonizing exercise in nostalgia.
Cigarettes After Sex’s discography is sorely limited: an EP was released in 2012 featuring ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby,’ a sultry lullaby that set precedence for their trademark sound and still continues to be their most popular song, followed by a 2017 self-titled album. That adds up to a scant sixteen tracks to their name. Their show won’t blow your socks off, and you’ll never catch a band member doing anything more than swaying on stage and performing with their eyes closed, yet, we all stood that night, transfixed, suspended from reality, and submerged in a romantic trance.