Stuck in a Cults-like Trance
Give me the big show. When it comes to a live musical performance, I always want the big show. The greeting. The city salutation. The witty banter. Comments on the venue. The running dialogue. The background on what the song is about. The “we were in L.A. last night and the crowd here tonight is definitely louder than last night” bit. The impromptu jump into the crowd OR the planned jump on to stage-set speakers. The call and response. The encouragement also known as “feel free to sing this song with us if you know the words!” I call it: the big show.
Now, the big show doesn’t have to be all those things. The big show can be subtle, humble, and true to the band. It should serve as a way for the audience to connect to the music through the performers. The big show doesn’t always have to include fancy pyrotechnics or multiple confetti guns, lest you think I bring a Flaming Lips-only / Wayne Coyne-and-thousands of red balloons-on Halloween bias to the table. What I always like about a live performance is the fact that it’s unique. There is something to be said for raw talent but I also believe there is something to be said for engaging a crowd when it comes to a live performance. I believe the big show should match the band and should get the audience closer to the music and to the performers.
That’s what keeps me coming back for more- the charisma. The fact that I’ve seen something unique at a show makes for a great story and often makes me a fan of the band enough to buy tickets for their next event. What I’ve always liked about a show is that it’s different than pressing play or putting needle to wax. I believe music is a deeply personal experience and a live act can breathe life in to the music to which you feel so connected.
The first time I saw Cults play the Fillmore, it was a pleasant surprise. I was going to see a sold out show. At the time, the headlining band was, in the words of Jacobin Magtu, “so hot right now.” (Needless to say, I haven’t heard much from that band since.) Cults opening for said band were a breath of fresh air. I loved every minute of it. The band was coming off commercial success (no pun intended as of today) with “Go Outside” but their entire set proved they could sing and play instruments to hold their own. Not to mention, several of the songs have xylophone and I totally dig that.
I was looking forward to seeing Cults at The Fillmore this year. It would mark the third time I’ve seen them perform and this time, I believed that with their touring schedule and second album, “Static”, The Fillmore would show just how much the band has progressed in musical style and performance.
The Fillmore was pretty empty by the time I witnessed the second opener. I was a bit surprised to see the sparse crowd but I remained optimistic, regardless of the audience. The stage boasted an elaborate set-up of flat screen TVs and a soon-to-be colorful light show juxtaposed against an almost completely dark stage. A light, white fog preempted the band as they took to their mics. The medium-sized crowd was ready and upon the first song, a small group within the crowd became fanatical and possessed. The beginning of the set included a mix of new songs off “Static” like “High Road”, “Were Before”, and “I Can Hardly Make You Mine”, punctuated with songs from their first, self-titled album like “Abducted”, “Never Heal Myself”, and “Never Saw the Point”. The set-list spanned old and new songs and the most I enjoyed Madeline Follin was when she belted out the verses. Follin can truly sing and, if you enjoy the albums, you will notice she doesn’t require any auto-tuning, unnecessary or required. I only wish that Follin would have had the opportunity to belt out more of the songs. Follin’s strong and lovely voice was a bit lost in the loud, darker guitar riffs that make up the new songs off “Static” and that foamed off the amps at The Fillmore. Seemingly uncomfortable with constant glances at Gabriel Rodriguez, on keys, xylophone, and guitar, Follin only said ‘thank you’ quietly between songs. Brian Oblivion, who spent most of the show covered by his long flowing (dare I say envious?) locks, said little, if anything at all.
The show went by quickly and only before “Rave On” was played did the band do a bit where they paused during a song’s bridge. It was a nice attempt. But needless to say, I wanted more. I wanted much more. Follin and Oblivion are talented, there is no denying that. And based on interviews I’ve seen, they can be sweet and funny. There were fans at the show that were very into the psychedelic soulfulness of the music: singing all the words, jumping with fists and hands waving, all while swaying to the music. But, I kept wondering: where was the big show? Actually, where was the show?
Cults took the stage for a brief encore that ended with “Go Outside”. As I attempted to take a decent photo in between the small group of hardcore fans at the front of the un-barricaded stage, I still wanted more. I wanted more from both Follin and Oblivion; the kind of showcase that took me past the psychedelic soulful trance the albums put me in. I wanted to see a performance that got me excited to see the band again. A performance that would garner a religious following. Sadly, I had to settle for the colorful lights and a small glimpse of Madeline Follin’s voice. From now on, it will have to be the trance of Cults’ albums that will keep me engaged. And for the small group of die-hard fans singing every word and covering my camera with your swaying hands: you win.
*all uses of the term ‘psychedelic soul’ are credited to my editor, the wonderful Dakin Hardwick.