Cigarettes After Sex creates a film noir at Fox Theater


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Gather ‘round you e-boys and e-girls and hear the story of the Cigarettes After Sex concert.  Coming out to the resounding applause of the audience, the El Paso quartet, Cigarettes After Sex, took center stage at Oakland’s Fox Theater last Tuesday. 

Cigarettes After Sex is the project of Greg Gonzalez, creating ambient dream pop. The band released its sleeper hit, “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” in 2012, capturing the mopey Tumblr teen zeitgeist of the time. Cigarettes After Sex released its debut self-titled album in 2017, and the band’s sophomore album is to be released Oct. 25. 

The show opened with a smidge-too-long short film featuring a white picket fence with a stormy sea in the foreground, as well as with various phrases that looked as though they came out of a 14-year-old’s diary sliding across the screen. This readied the audience for a cinematic atmosphere that the band furthered with both its visuals and detached ethereal sound.  

Cigarettes After Sex continued the night with its song “Opera House,” with Greg Gonzalez’s unmistakable voice crooning throughout the venue. The stage had smoke weaving in and out of it, with the light reflecting off of the smoke in a way that made it look more like fog rolling through the band members’ legs. Projected behind them were various femme fatales of days past in various states of melancholia, setting the mood for the entire concert.  

The music in combination with the scene they had set felt as though it was a modern film noir. The band members looked tired, as though they, like the women projected on the screen, were going through an indescribable sadness, perfectly embodying the lyrics of the songs the band performed. The third song they sang, “Falling In Love,” was a new track from the band’s upcoming album. The crowd was hanging onto every word muttered by Gonzalez. The audience was mostly made up of Oakland hipsterites and e-boys and e-girls. 

If Tumblr from 2014 had a voice and a unifying aesthetic, it would be this concert. 

Midway through the concert, Cigarettes After Sex performed its breakout hit “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby,” and the crowd roared its delight, swaying and singing along to the lyrics for the entirety of the song. The band sounded almost exactly the same live as on their recordings, with Gonzalez’s androgynous voice packed with emotion as he delivered his lyrics of lost loves. 

There is something eerie in hearing a man in his late 30s sing songs with lyrics that read like a tween’s diary. The most egregious of these adolescent-like lyrics came in “Falling In Love,” which referenced some of the phrases that came across the screen during the short film from the top of the show. One stated, “you can be my house bunny,” a phrase that comes across as strange from a fully bearded man singing to an audience of teenagers. 

Cigarettes After Sex ended its official set with “Apocalypse,” arguably the band’s most famous song, which was performed to the delight of the crowd. Giving quick goodbyes, the band members walked off into their pretend-exit, coming back out just as the audience got restless, returning with their new single, “Heavenly,” a song conceived while watching a sunset of indescribable beauty. 

The band’s final song was “Dreaming Of You,” knowing full well that the audience was going to be dreaming of them.

Cigarettes After Sex’s entire set was played incredibly smoothly. Not a hair was out of place, all of the transitions were seamless, and the band seemed to be a cohesive unit. Like many musicians in the band’s genre, a lot of Cigarettes After Sex’s music tends to blend together.

But in a good way.

Cigarettes After Sex created a cohesive, ambient scene that allowed for complete audience immersion into its world — shot in crisp black and white and full of femme fatales. 

Highlights: “Heavenly,” “Crush,” “Affection” 

Zoë Cramer covers music. Contact her at [email protected].