Cape Town, South Africa’s Civil Twilight is the opposite of an “indie darling.” In fact, they are proof that corporate rock still exists which, of course, has its pros and cons. The band is signed to Wind-up Records, the same folks that brought you Creed, Evanescence and Five For Fighting (remember the post 9/11 cool-down about how it’s not easy to be Superman?), and their music has been featured in TV programs like One Tree Hill and House, as well as a promo video during WrestleMania. Hearing their tunes at Williamsburg’s Rough Trade, I am not exactly surprised to learn this. Civil Twilight makes proficient, danceable poppy rock (or rock-y pop?) that is absolutely populist and bound for success. For a surly punk rocker like this writer however, it’s a bit hard to swallow.
Started by two brothers and their teenage friends, Civil Twilight is a band of handsome white men, some with slightly silly haircuts. Most of their “African” influences can be found in songs that sound very clearly like Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” respectively. On one song, an African conga rhythm is supplied by a laptop. Something about the high singing, choppy guitars and hypnotic grooves reminded me of the music of another South African artist, Dave Matthews. Despite being somewhat insufferable, he was once one of the most popular artists in America, and still holds a large market, one that Civil Twilight may very well fill.
Civil Twilight sounds like U2 and the Police, but truthfully more like Coldplay and the Killers, and a lot like 2000s Scottish stalwarts Idlewild. The musicians are strong, particularly Kevin Dailey who plays piano as well as some fancy lead guitar, evoking David Gilmour during an extended slow jam. My opinion of the band may be marred greatly by the lead singer, Steven McKellar, who also plays bass quite well. He comes off as kind of a mimbo (male bimbo) with his silly dances, constant running of his fingers through his beautiful hair and his vapid stage banter, which was returned consistently by cooing women in the crowd. As a singer, he exhibited Bono-esque acrobatics and at times resembled a straight Rufus Wainwright or a more socially acceptable Thom Yorke.
At one point, McKellar said something to the effect of, “Thanks for letting us experiment with you before the new record comes out and we hit it big. Thanks for filling this room, it’s really nice” before treating the crowd to some new material. In a town known for its eclectic taste in indie (which has its’ own issues), this emerging “alternative” act has a big, full room on a weeknight, and the crowd showed some of that enthusiasm that is hard to squeeze out of a Brooklyn audience. When McKellar sat down at the piano to play a sensitive tune, I decided it was time to move towards the exit. I noticed that their vinyl record, priced at $40, was sold out. Yes, it’s possible that I just saw the next Coldplay, Killers or even Dave Matthews Band, moments before they hit the big time.
– Jamie Frey