Cults: Rhythm Room, Phoenix, AZ 3/19/12

There’s something inherent in us to long for an era that has already past, whether we were alive for it or not.  We often look back and idealize that time to the point where the present falls far short in comparison, and we recreate those days.  How much modern music sounds like 80’s new-wave or Pet Sounds with a modern twist?   It’s as if artists are saying, “How cool was this time?  How great was the music?  This is the music our parents played for us.  This is what we grew up singing along to and grew up loving.” 

Cults, a New York-based noise pop act that are a combination of several vintage sounds intermingling, sold out their show at Phoenix’s Rhythm Room: it was definitely golden age syndrome in action.  The whole performance, which included Mrs. Magician and Spectrals as openers, was part surf-rock, part go-go, part doo-wop, part new wave, and altogether erratic. The vibe seemed to bounce from a Pulp Fiction-style chase scene to classic oldies, serving only fitting that Dick Dale is slated to play the same stage soon.

After ten minutes of the dreamscape intro with a stage filled only with fog, the two piece turned five piece made their entrance.  Lead vocalist Madeline Follin squeaked out a quick “Hi, we’re Cults!” and  they launched into the fast-paced go-go intro to “Abducted.”  A projector from the rear of the crowded room blanketed the band with television static, and the audience slowly started to pulse to the rhythm. 

With enough reverb on Follin’s vocals to make it sound like she was being broadcast from Flagstaff rather than five feet away, her sweet, girlish tone and somewhat typical melodies invoke scenes of 1950’s high school dances. The most memorable moment came at the end of the fifth song "You Know What I Mean", when Follin shrieked the last line into the mic with utmost authority: “cause I can’t sleep alone at night, yeah you know what I mean." The sold out crowd finally warmed up and vigorously cheered in response to Follin’s holler. 

Virtually every song performed had a synth drum overlaid on top of the live drums, mixed with several erratic noises from Brian Oblivion’s guitar, and most of the spaces between songs were filled with erratic sounds and voice-overs possibly from obscure films. Towards the end of the set, Cults surprisingly pulled off a very idiosyncratic cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.”

It was a 45 minute set that ended without an encore.   And while it’s true they only have one album of material so far, the show felt rushed and under-developed, and surely no artist would wish to be pigeon-holed into one genre with absolutely no flexibility, but Cults seems just a bit too disjointed with their vision.  They’re definitely a homage to some past era, maybe several at once, and sure, they’re taking ideas from songs they love and trying to approach them from an original angle.  The songs themselves are catchy enough, especially “Go Outside,“ but in a live setting, both Follin and Oblivion seem a little inexperienced and distant from their audience and lack a compelling stage presence.

Photos by Spring Eselgroth


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