September 27, 2012
Better than: A cardboard cutout of Twin Shadow.
Sporting a white-sleeved leather jacket, slicked back mohawk, and carrying what appeared to be a wine bottle, George Lewis Jr. wobbled out onto Webster Hall’s stage on Thursday a few minutes late. “Thank you for being with us tonight, I love you,” he said, pausing for a moment as he stared out over the sold-out venue. This was his return to New York City as Twin Shadow after a country wide tour, and he seemed happy (and surprisingly grateful) to be back. Immediately, his band popped off into “Golden Light,” the first track from the artist’s sophomore record, this past July’s Confess. Lewis and his big, bright yellow guitar wiggled around as he proclaimed, “Some people say there’s a golden light, and if I chase after you, doesn’t mean that it’s true.”
George Lewis Jr. is cocky. The cover of Confess is a photo of him standing in front of a bright blue background, donning a slick, half-zipped leather jacket, staring into the camera in a way that could be received as either “Rugged, sexy guy” or “Wow, dude, that’s creepy thing you’re doing with your eyes right there.” Back in July, Lewis did an interview with Pitchfork, and while discussing what it was like to deal with the psychological aftermath of a motorcycle accident, he said, “I considered how important Twin Shadow is to the world. Does the world need Twin Shadow? I came to this decision at the end, that, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do and ultimately this is the most beautiful thing I could offer up in my life.'” About a month later, news broke that Lewis had written a novel between tours and albums called The Night of the Silver Sun. On top of nearly every music fan and critic making a joke about it on social media, it also sparked some controversy from Cloud Nothings’ frontman Dylan Baldi the following day in a tweet which has since been deleted: “haven’t vomited recently? try the new twin shadow book!” On top of all this, next to the merchandise table on the floor of Webster Hall, there stood a cardboard cutout of the musician standing in a floral jacket with his hand on his chin. Fans got pictures taken with it.
The thing about Lewis’s arrogance, though, is it seems to come out of a genuine place, meaning that I don’t think this guy is aware of how big of an asshole he sounds when he says stuff like, “Does the world need Twin Shadow?” Initially, it’s hard to feel bad for someone who gets to choose whether or not the world “needs” his or her creative endeavor but, weirdly enough, there’s something oddly charming about Lewis’s blatant ignorance and entitlement. He reeks of way-way-way-too-much-confidence, but cuts it down by airing his insecurities out in the public eye. Confess, and even his 2010 debut Forget, are records which are both shamelessly filled with songs about misery, loneliness, and heartbreak. To the sonic blend of a poppier Cure and a sadder New Order, Lewis earnestly puts his emotions out there, unafraid of their honesty and immaturity. On “I Don’t Care,” he croons, “Before the night is through I will say three words, I’ll probably mean the first two, and regret the third.” He doesn’t mind that the lyrics read like a poem I may have written when I was 14 and dropped in my crush’s locker. He sings ’em anyway, with everything he’s got, and people simply love him for it.
Webster Hall’s performance illustrated that live Twin Shadow is much different than studio Twin Shadow. The crisp, cleaned up ’80s-influenced synthy sound is replaced with a rugged, more traditional rock band approach. Lewis plays guitar (and he plays it very well), backed by a bass player, drummer (who had a stylish “top-ponytail” going on), and a keyboardist. The tempos of the songs are a bit slower, but still create an enticing blend of vibrant, electro-style beats with screaming guitar solos. “Five Seconds,” Confess‘s lead single, could’ve been mistaken for a completely different song than you’ll find on the record, but one that’s just as danceable. “Five seconds to your heart, straight to your heart, I can’t get to your heart,” he sang before a sea of moving bodies, all fluttering around in a strobe light. On stage, Lewis is best when he’s having fun and not trying so hard to show that he Feels Things and has Emotions. Before “Run My Heart,” he encouraged everyone in the audience to take off their shirts. To no surprise, about three fourths of the crowd indulged his request, and Lewis performed the rendition in front of almost 3,000 twirling articles of clothing in the air.
Despite the fact that a Twin Shadow concert is the ultimate opportunity to move your body around like a maniac or make out with a stranger, it’s safe to say that Lewis’s music is more appealing to the ear in record form. More than once, Thursday’s performance felt sloppy and out of sync. “Castles in the Snow,” probably Forget‘s biggest single and one of the artist’s most catchy earworms, was muffled and awkward. The driving, rumbling beats of the recorded version were sacrificed for something that didn’t jive with the same definitiveness as the album version. But, still, Lewis didn’t care and played with all the boldness he could muster. Admirable? Maybe. Or maybe it’s better to make out at home.
Critical Bias: “Five Seconds” was my Song of Summer 2012. Fuck you, Carly Rae Jensen (although I do really love “Call Me Maybe”).
Overheard: “I feel like if you take the electronic elements out of the music, Twin Shadow kind of sounds like a boy band.”
Random Notebook Dump: Nice hip thrust, George.