Civil Twilight unites The Foundry with Story of an Immigrant - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Civil Twilight @ The Foundry, 6.30.16 | Photo by Wendy McCardle

There aren’t many bands I can claim this kind of bragging right to, but if I may be so bold, allow me to declare myself as one of the first Philadelphian fans of South African rock band Civil Twilight.  You see, it was back in 2008 when two friends of mine, Audrey and Liza, caught the band at Virginia Commonwealth University.  The show, originally scheduled outdoors, was already poorly promoted and dampened further by rain, which forced the band to relocate to a room on campus that also happened to be serving free pizza.  Story has it that the band played to a crowd of no more than five while students wandered in, grabbed a free slice and promptly left.

As for Audrey and Liza, they were more enticed by the delicious deep dish of Civil Twilight’s music.  Hooked, in fact, and very soon thereafter I was gifted with a copy of Human, the band’s first, independently-released album which was re-released in 2010 as their debut with Wind-Up Records.  I still remember the immediate goosebumps that registered upon first listen of the album’s ambitious opener “Anybody Out There”.  It’s pure chills when that bass meets the gently building, U2-esque guitar melody, which hits its zenith following the pre-chorus refrain of, “I wanna hear that sound slow me down”.

That sound has continued to slow me down over the past eight years as I’ve watched Civil Twilight graze the edge of stardom, pulling larger crowds after television placements of the single “Letters From The Sky”.  While the band continues to churn out consistently good records, they have remained a mostly underground success.  Currently on tour in support of their third long player, 2015’s Story of an Immigrant, the band has been playing to a schizophrenic mix of massive and mini crowds, hitting up summer festivals while holding down a string of small club dates.  This past Thursday found the band at Philadelphia’s Foundry, a far more intimate setting compared to the stage they set ablaze just two weeks prior at Firefly Festival.

While the crowd that greeted Civil Twilight at The Foundry was petite, it was passionate.  At the edge of the stage, I found myself sandwiched between the best possible group one could hope to share a concert with upon pure happenstance.  On my left was Anita, who traveled from Maryland to celebrate her 100th time seeing Civil Twilight.  To my right, a pair of superfans who were losing themselves in the music so intensely, they earned the nickname “The Clap Band” from Civil Twilight themselves.  As for me, I don’t usually dance at shows.  I take pictures and notes.  But between Anita and the Clap Band, I was dancing.  I was free.

Civil Twilight @ The Foundry, 6.30.16

Civil Twilight @ The Foundry, 6.30.16

Civil Twilight was feeling it too, not scaling back their energy one bit to accommodate a smaller crowd.  Frontman Steven McKellar has grown more comfortable and charismatic onstage, stopping once for a heartfelt moment to describe how his friends back home in Cape Town react whenever he tells them Civil Twilight will be playing in Philly.  “Everyone says you’re a tough crowd and I don’t know what it is, but you’ve always been good to us.  I know you have a hardened exterior, but that shell is just protecting what you love”. Those shells certainly crumbled away as we danced and sang along to a setlist that was an even mix of Civil Twilight’s three albums, peppered with covers of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” and South African artist Johnny Clegg’s “Great Heart,” which Steven introduced with the query, “Do you want to hear the first song to ever make me cry?”

All the while we watched the dynamic unfold between McKellar and his bandmate and brother, guitarist Andrew McKellar.  The band was down one man as keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Dailey was unable to perform due to a scheduling issue, so it was up to the brothers McKellar and drummer Richard Wouters to lead the charge.  In that sense, the show felt back to basics and to witness Steven and Andrew perform together is joy in its purest form.  Theirs is a musical intuition that runs blood deep, perhaps mixed in with a little inside joke.  That detail is so palpable, it feels almost voyeuristic to watch them, as though we’re spying on brothers playing in their garage, albeit brothers who are executing incredibly precise, beautifully melodic and emotionally cathartic music.

As usual, Civil Twilight’s performance grabbed me by the heart and left me in a state of pure bliss.  I made new friends and fondly remembered the ones who introduced me to the music in the first place.  As these gentlemen came to us to tell their “Story of an Immigrant”, it’s imperative, especially in 2016, to realize how effectively a group of outsiders showed a way to connect to one another right here in our own community.

Perfect Stranger
Oh Daniel
Fire Escape
Story of an Immigrant
Great Heart (Johnny Clegg cover)
Teardrop (Massive Attack cover)
Letters From The Sky
When, When

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