Does everything sound better in a Scottish accent? Sometimes I think so, but that’s probably just a personal quirk of mine. I do love the sound of Scottish singers, the way that burr bends the words. If you’re like me and you like Scottish music, the Empty Bottle was the place to be on Monday night. Two of the three bands were from Scotland: headliners the Twilight Sad and the cheekily named We Were Promised Jetpacks. Earlier on their tour, these bands were playing together with another Scottish outfit, Frightened Rabbit, but on this leg of the tour, they teamed up with a great band from Brighton, England, BrakesBrakesBrakes.
It seemed like the band playing second, We Were Promised Jetpacks, drew the most fans in Chicago, judging from the way the crowd responded, singing along to many of the lyrics. But all three bands received strong applause and deserved it. BrakesBrakesBrakes is known as Brakes in England, but the band calls itself BrakesBrakesBrakes in the U.S. to avoid a legal conflict with an American band called Brakes. As far as I’m concerned, these blokes are THE Brakes, so I’d rather just call them Brakes.
I’ve been a fan of Brakes since the band released Give Blood in 2005, and the group’s latest CD, Touchdown, is another strong recording. Opening Monday night’s show, Brakes slammed through a series of quick songs, tossing off these punk, post-punk, country and rock gems like musical haikus. Several of the songs end abruptly, as soon as Brakes have said everything they want to say. The shortest song of the night was so short that Brakes played it twice: the 2005 political commentary “Cheney,” which consists of about 30 seconds of the name “Cheney!” being chanted over and over followed by the eloquent plea: “Stop being such a dick!” The band also threw in a cover of Camper Van Beethoven’s “Shut Us Down,” but the highlights were some of the now-classic songs from Brakes’ 2005 debut and new tracks like the catchy “Don’t Take Me to Space (Man)” and the wistful “Leaving England.” And in case anyone was thinking that Brakes are a bit like Art Brut, guitarist Tom White kicked off one song by asking the rest of the band, “Ready, Art Brut?”
We Were Promised Jetpacks played most of the songs from their recent debut record, These Four Walls, stretching some of that out. Not that this was anything like jam music. It was just that these lads seemed to love feeling the pulse of their riffs and rhythms, so they luxuriated in that sound. And so did the crowd. Singer Adam Thompson knows how to belt. I was amazed at how far back he got from the microphone at some points, signing at maximum volume, his voice rising above all that other noise. Noting that this was the last night of their U.S. tour, Thompson said he was looking forward to going home to Scotland. “I need my mom and my mashed potatoes,” he said.
Fellow Glaswegians the Twilight Sad raised the intensity level even higher for a riveting, cathartic set at the end of the night. Playing songs from the band’s excellent 2007 CD Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters as well as the new Forget the Night Ahead, the Twilight Sad played loud, passionate post-punk. Lead singer James Graham holds the mike in his hand and roams the stage, raising his eyes to the ceiling or dropping down to his knees like a man who’s nearly overcome with the music and words passing through his mouth. When the band finished its set with guitars pressed into amplifiers for squalls of feedback, it was clear that there would be no encore. That ending was too climatic to follow up with another song.