Centre for the Book had a moody hue to it, somewhere between daylight and darkness – its own twilight zone. Whether this was intentional or not, the soft ambers, the shadowy blues and the touches of green illuminating the stage certainly added to the eerie, mesmerising feel of the place. Upon entering, a manicured hand with a tight dress and an even tighter smile handed us a Black Bottle Whisky Cocktail. Chairs were assembled around the stage expectantly and, failing to find anything else to do, we sat down.
An odd assortment of people trickled in – some older and soft around the edges, others primped for an evening out in Camps Bay. Studio 7 founder Patrick Craig ushered the audience forward in an attempt to recreate the intimacy of the gigs held in his Sea Point home. But the Edwardian building and the mismatched audience did not quite create an atmosphere in which an artist could engage informally. It almost felt as if we were waiting for a lecture or even – with the acoustics of Centre for the Book – a sermon. Yet, as Paige Mac took to the stage and opened her mouth to fill every inch of that dome, I realised that the preacher I had been waiting for had come in the form of an angel.
An extraordinarily humble performer, Paige Mac, along with her bassist Garry van Vuuren, captured the crowd with her shy charm and knowing smile. Her resonant voice and multiple octave range is reminiscent of Adele, albeit an acoustic, African Adele. It didn’t even matter that the words to her songs ‘Atrophy’ and ‘Wish Upon a Star’ were lost in the echo and reverberations of the building. Quite honestly, I didn’t need to make sense of her lyrics to appreciate her sound. She finished up with a song entitled ‘Love Makes you Fat’ and disappeared as graciously as she had arrived. Paige Mac really was an unexpected treat, and for me personally, the highlight of my evening.
After a brief pause, and once Steve McKellar had finished “slashing” (Patrick Craig’s words not mine) he graced the stage with his presence, opening with ‘Quiet in my Town’. His ghostly falsetto and guitar chords lingered in the room as his brother Andrew, Richard Wouters and Kevin Dailey joined him on stage to add a little noise to his “town”. Songs such as ‘Every Walk that I’ve ever Taken’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Please Don’t Find Me’ and ‘Trouble’ followed rather too seamlessly into one another as chords dragged out into an echo only for similar chords to be struck up again to start the next song. As a result the repertoire came across as a tad monotonous, despite the undeniable charisma and little quirks of the band members. Steve McKellar has an occasional shoulder twitch and the tendency to screw up his face to accentuate some notes and his brother could often be seen scratching a bow across his guitar to create atmospheric sounds.
At 16 or so songs the set was also just a bit too long for a seated concert on a school night. Just as I began to notice a few chins dropping onto chests around me, the music began to liven up from the lull of its resting pace. A cellist and two violinists joined the band for a particularly haunting version of ‘River’. ‘Letters from the Sky’ followed, jolting my attention back to the stage just in time for their final number.
As the last note lingered in the rafters and the audience stood to applaud, it was clear that many had thoroughly enjoyed Civil Twilight’s smooth, soothing sound. And me? I went home and slept like a baby.
Civil Twilight and Paige Mac performed at the Centre for the Book on 12 February 2014.