Live Review: Cults @The Music Box

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story + photos / Ilyse Kaplan

With all the “hype bands” these days, it is always interesting to see who will stick around longer than the several months of Pitchfork praise.  Cults were heavily praised in the blogosphere during summer 2011.  Following the footsteps of blogged about predecessors, their first Los Angeles show was a modest sold out gig at The Echo with a crowd of 300, their second was FYF Fest playing to a crowd of over 20,000, and Thursday March 22 they filled The Henry Fonda Theatre at The Music Box with about 1500 fans.

Spectrals opened the show to a sparse crowd.  The seemingly surf rock band was an ode to early Modern Lovers with a dash of The Feelies complete with a wailing guitar that was meant to express more than the singer himself, Louis Oliver Jones.  It was refreshing to see a band that used the singer as an afterthought to the instrumentals.  If it weren’t for British accents, you would think they hailed from Southern California, fitting in with bands like Surfer Blood and Best Coast.  They are just beginning to gain recognition in the U.S. and are preparing themselves to follow in the footsteps of their tour-mates.  The crowd that night seemed to agree with hype band potential as those who started at the bar ended the set closer to the stage, some even shed the social anxieties that come with a Hollywood music venue to dance a little.

Cults took the stage with some of the best lighting I have ever seen at any kind of performance.  The band looked as if they were coming through a fuzzy TV screen circa Poltergeist.  The dark visuals fit perfectly with their Goth tinged indie pop and their opening song, “Abducted.”

Hailing from New York, the duo of singer Madeline Follin and guitarist, Brian Oblivion has been gaining a lot of momentum in the past year.  Beginning as a band who made music in their spare time, they soon signed to Columbia Records to release their self-titled debut and have since been playing to packed crowds around the world.  Their lo-fi sound is the type that seems like it might not translate live, so I was surprised to find that Follin’s voice does not need much distortion.

The Music Box is the type of venue that is a hit or miss for sound, for some reason Spectrals’ sound was enhanced by the acoustics but for Cults, the sound engineering was a miss.  The vocals and guitar were too amplified that the drums and bass were lost, losing the beat of the music.  “Do you hear this?”  The girl next to me asked.  “I’m so bummed, I saw them at FYF and they were amazing but this sound is horrible.  It’s ruining the show!”  At least most patrons could tell it was not the bands’ fault and with catchy songs I’d been singing along to all summer, it was easy to ignore the poor sound quality and still enjoy the show.

I was surprised to hear a new song early on in the set.  “The Curse,” played second, displayed a dark droning sound that goes along better with their black clothed image than the sing-along lo-fi of their first album.  “You Know What I Mean,” though slow and short was a crowd favorite as the murmurs of “I love this one” spread through the audience.  Follin’s voice pulled off the belting number well against the odds of poor sound.  On the album, it is hard to tell whether her voice will translate live or if the sound-effects are what carry it across.  In this case the poor venue sound was a blessing because we now know it is actually her voice that has the sweet and varied tones we hear on the record rather than sound engineers.

“Rave On” was another highlight in the set making me feel like I was part of an alien church choir as the crowd sang along; in fact it was quite literally like being part of a cult.

Ending on a light note with “Go Outside” and “Oh My God,” the audience reaction determined Cults is more than just a “hype band.”  In the age of viral videos, and everyone and (literally) their mothers having their own blog, the only way to tell whether a band is any good is to see for your self.  If you want to gauge how others perceived the band because you’re not even sure about your own opinion (or don’t know if it’s worth the continued hype) you can glance at the audience reactions.  If even the tightest wound, Hollywood, too-cool-for-school audience members loosened up and were doing small shoulder shifts by the end of the performance you know the band is here to stay.  Judging from the shoulder shifts, Cults is well on their way to moving past “hype band” status and in to the ranks of “here-to-stay,” though only a second album will reveal their future.


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