On Monday, Cigarettes After Sex came to the Mission Ballroom and filled the place with smoke and stars. The show felt like laying in the grass with someone you love looking up at the night sky, hearts filled with stars and all their promises, peaceful, beautiful and exhilarating.
The show began slowly, almost somberly. There was no opener, ethereal music playing lightly over the speakers instead. Images of iconic celebrities from history such as Sofia Loren, Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra were projected faintly onto a black curtain that had fallen upon the stage as the massive, fervent crowd gathered and settled.
Eventually, the house lights went down, engulfing the Mission Ballroom in utter blackness. The darkness was then cut by a sharp white light pouring out from behind the curtain and the crowd entered a frenzy, the applause thunderous. As the curtain pulled away, a stark silhouette became visible: a figure carrying a guitar slowly walking toward the crowd like some savior ready to guide the audience into the light. The light emanating behind the figure grew brighter and the face of Cigarettes After Sex frontman Greg Gonzalez — who founded the band in 2008 — became visible. He was soon joined by drummer Jacob Tomsky and bassist Randall Miller and the band began to play the dreamy first notes of “Crush” as smoke began to pour in around the band and fill the room.
The stage setup was sparse: Tomsky on the very left, Gonzalez in the middle and Miller on the right. They seemed to use as much space on the stage as possible, creating a ton of negative space that allowed the Cigarette After Sex’s ethereal aesthetic to take hold. Smoke and light spiraled around the band throughout the entire set, alternately obscuring and illuminating them. It was an entrancing scene, like looking through a black-and-white filter but in real life. This was coupled with striking images projected behind the band. There were crashing waves, the moon hovering over a still body of water, a burning rose. The most striking, however, was the most simple, as the images became replaced by a sea of small lights that resembled the night sky untouched by city lights.
The set itself mostly alternated between hits off Cigarettes After Sex’s 2017 self-titled album and their 2019 effort, Cry. Following “Crush,” they moved through songs such as “You’re All I Want” and “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby.” These songs set a tone that intertwined with the visual aspect of the band and carried throughout the show. The music feels like the space between the waking world and that of the dreaming, somewhere out of time, beyond consciousness. It puts the listener in a trance, creating a feeling of floating through space and time, adrift in the vast universe. The only times the trance was broken was when Gonzalez would thank the audience after every couple of songs.
Cigarettes After Sex’s music is also undeniably sexy. Almost all of their songs feel pining, filled with passion and desire. It’s so gentle yet electric, like the first time a new lover brushes your arm. They proved this with songs like “Falling in Love” and the brand new “Bubblegum,” which was released as a single earlier this year.
Almost everything the band did sent the crowd into a fervor, the applause threatening to drown the music out at times. Nevertheless, it was powerful to see the passion from the fans, their phone lights on during quieter moments waving and illuminating the dark venue, becoming stars themselves.
The set rounded out with fan favorites “Sunsetz” and “K.” before ending with “Apocalypse,” Cigarettes After Sex’s biggest hit and a truly beautiful piece of music. They left the stage and the Mission Ballroom was once again engulfed in darkness. However, the light soon returned as the band hit the stage once again to play the deeper cut, “Opera House” for the encore. The band then thanked the crowd once again, told them they’d be seeing them again on Tuesday and left them to wander out in the city filled with dreams to get lost in the city lights.
All Photography by David Cohn