Twin Shadow at First Avenue, 5/31/13

Twin Shadow at First Avenue, 5/31/13
Photo by Erik Hess

Twin Shadow
With Elliphant
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, May 31, 2013

For the majority of Twin Shadow's stage show at First Avenue on Friday, frontman George Lewis Jr. looked charmed and freely flashed his glistening smile. Commanding a red guitar and some dizzying effects pedals with authority, he steered his three bandmates and the audience through the sonic and lyrical synthesizer soul of 2010's Forget and last year's Confess.

Near the end of the show, however, he looked momentarily perturbed. "I could be singing 'I belong to you, you belong to me,' but fuck that," he said, affecting the Lumineers -- aka the band that was playing across the street to 8,200 people -- with a sneer and some quick strums. "It's a little more complicated than that." And seeing the claws come out, albeit briefly, showed how fiercely Lewis wanted not just to entertain, but to challenge and captivate every heart in that room.

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Slideshow: Twin Shadow at First Avenue, 5/31/13

The band took their places while Rihanna belting the hook to Kanye West's "All of the Lights" boomed through the speakers. It turned out that Twin Shadow would play mostly in darkness with an array of projections splayed all over their matching overcoat-length blazers. Always a movie theater-sized box of eye candy, Lewis showed off a bleached and closely cropped hairstyle that could've been executed by Chris Brown's barber. "You Call Me On" broke the audience into the set in a rough, moody fashion. When he sang that he didn't give a damn, neither did anyone else.

Twin Shadow at First Avenue, 5/31/13
Twin Shadow at First Avenue, 5/31/13
Photos by Erik Hess

"It is an honor to play on this stage for the very first time," he said with a benevolent grin, and then launched into "Golden Light." As the anthemic track unpacked itself, the projections turned plaid, and then polka dot. And as he did many times over the course of the night, Lewis brought the crowd into it to clap and sing along -- not that they needed much cajoling. Twin Shadow quickly leaped next into "Five Seconds," one of the great dance-along singles of recent memory. Replete with guitar pedal magic and one of the night's several freaked-out solos, Lewis directed his band to lengthen the ending -- and repeated the chorus a few extra times for emphasis.

"You're all drunks," he said with a laugh when the song wrapped. "You should should break all the rules, get smashed, hassle everyone around you, and go home and beat up everyone." This love affair with Minneapolis crowds, which played out delightfully during Twin Shadow's back-to-back Entry shows last August, still felt fresh. Lewis pushed the intimacy further by testing out a strong new composition referencing "cool songs and bad love," which soared into his upper register, and got his keyboardist to break out a tambourine. Then, the sexual energy swirling in the room was further lubricated as Lewis moaned to kick off "Tyrant Destroyed." But he wanted even more from us.

"People in Minneapolis are all so well-behaved," Lewis said afterwards with visible glee. "You all have manners here, and then you go home and do fucked up things to each other. I got tied up in Minneapolis, for real -- it was good."
At this point, it was tough to not think about Lewis's guitar-wielding hero, Prince. Compared to the Purple One's perfectly adequate, guitar-wrought performances at Myth -- albeit, to a much larger crowd with deeper pockets -- the emotion exchange on display here was far greater. "Slow" again got this gaga crowd singing loudly along without prompting. As the band locked in, Lewis had little choice but to turn the mic to the audience. Then, the Springsteen-coated lament "Run My Heart" quickly took everyone down a dark, neon-lit passageway.

Twin Shadow at First Avenue, 5/31/13
Twin Shadow at First Avenue, 5/31/13
Photos by Erik Hess

What Lewis was getting at when he was talking about the "more-complicated" nature of his songwriting came heavily across in "Castles in the Snow," which they played with rainbow venetian blinds slowly dancing over them. "Everything I see looks like gold / everything I touch turns cold," proved ever-more devastating each time he sang it. And following with the aching "Forget," the frontman showed off his sad doe eyes and upped its pageantry as cigarette lighters rose out of the enraptured masses.

The magic of Twin Shadow in Minneapolis is that the crowd quickly turned on a dime and shake their bodies again for the uptempo "At My Heels" to close the set. Lewis might not have actually taken his guitar off when he exited the stage because he reemerged almost immediately to play a stripped, "Purple Rain"-y version of "The One" by himself. Then, the full band came back for an epic, lusty "When We're Dancing" with the whole room singing too. Had they kept playing much longer, hearts and livers in that room never would've had any hope of recovery. 

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: First, this was one of the best-lit shows I've ever seen. Second, every successive Twin Shadow show I've seen has been better than the last. Third, I also listened to a shitload of Terence Trent D'Arby this weekend. Fourth and foremost, Lewis's knock on the Lumineers probably also came from a place of wanting -- and deserving -- to play to 8,200 people.

The Crowd: Some guy who kept trying to take a picture of his beer can, and the sons and daughters of passionate Prince fans.

The Opener: I could write a far longer diatribe about cultural appropriation regarding Elliphant. Rock 'n' roll has enjoyed a long history of respectfully trading styles across different nationalities. Paul Simon made Graceland, Joe Strummer got heavy into reggae, David Byrne explored South American rhythms, Damon Albarn made Mali music, and tUnE-yArDs' global gumbo is beyond sophisticated. But the Scandinavian-bred Ellinor Olovsdotter performing, bantering ("blisseh"), and elaborately swaggering in a rough sketch of island pidgin felt nothing like homage and everything like trend-hopping contempt. Or, to quote her, "I'm like a finger up your ass." Ugh.


You Call Me On
Golden Light
Five Seconds
*New Song*
Tyrant Destroyed
Run My Heart
Castles in the Snow
At My Heels
The One (Encore)
When We're Dancing (Encore)

Bonus: Here's Twin Shadow's Minneapolis episode of his True Stories series.

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