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Cults rave on in Buffalo - REVIEW

Photos by Chuck Alaimo

blog by Ben Kirst  • 

The band: “This is our third time in Buffalo,” Cults co-founder Brian Oblivion told a crowded house on Monday night at Town Ballroom, “and we love it so much we keep coming back.”

There was no reason to doubt the guitarist’s sincerity—the Buffalo audience was bananas for Oblivion and vocalist Madeline Follin, the Brooklyn-based duo (with a backup trio consisting of percussionist/keyboardist Gabriel Rodriguez, drummer Marc Deriso and bassist Nate Aguilar) whose guileless amalgamation of 1960s-style girl-groups and shimmering college rock has created a growing buzz in the indiesphere over the past year.

Cults first grabbed the spotlight in spring 2011 with the release of a three-song, self-titled EP on BandCamp.com that offered the next evolutionary step in the retro-pop postmodernism that has taken hold in underground music: female singers influenced more by Diana Ross and Ronnie Spector than Kim Deal or Kim Gordon paired with buzzsaw guitarists that spice up an otherwise sparse, often primitive arrangement.

Cults are currently touring in support of their first full-length album—also a self-titled effort—and rolled into Buffalo on Monday as part of a long, strange trip that has included a run through the Far East and Australia, an appearance on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show, and stops in Toronto and Montreal yet to come.

The venue: Hey, Town Ballroom (681 Main St., Buffalo) is Town Ballroom, you know? Good site lines, nice atmosphere, accommodating to a much larger crowd than grungy but beloved Mohawk Place (the originally scheduled venue for this performance).

With all due respect to the difficulty of his job, however, it’s impossible not to note that the sound man had an off night on Monday. The mix for Cults’ set was a mess—Follin’s vocals and Oblivion’s guitar, the two real signatures of the band, were often lost in a wall of mud. Highly disappointing, because other, recent shows at Town Ballroom have offered outstanding aural quality (the Charles Bradley show in February jumps to mind).

The crowd: Young. Really young. Surprisingly young. This was a 16-and-over show, and my guess is that a lot of recently-issued driver’s permits were used as identification at the door.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. It is kind of cool to see the younger generation make their presence felt at a show that’s farther off the beaten path than Kissmas Bash or whatever haircut band is playing Club Infinity. The kids helped swell the crowd to near-capacity.

Not an especially loud or aggressive crowd, which was interesting, but it was a dance-happy group—particularly the females—and at one point during “Rave On,” groups of friends unironically wrapped arms around each others’ shoulders and swayed in unison.

The performance: The rhythm section added a heavy back-end that is not part of the band’s recorded work, which was a little disconcerting, and the sound—as previously mentioned—was not great. But that’s not to say that there were not very strong moments.

Cults opened with “Abducted,” a beautiful piece of pop candy that encompasses everything about the band in just over two minutes. The recorded version is a treble-heavy, quivering missive of retro-pop melancholy—at Town Ballroom, it was a bit bottom-heavy, but still delightful.

The band moved into a tepid version of “The Curse,” but bounced back with an excellent rendition of “Never Heal Myself”—which Follin wrapped with a sassy “But I could never be myself enough for you, so f—k you,” drawing squeals of approval from the audience. Oblivion’s reverb-heavy, intricate guitar work managed to cut through the sonic sludge with a distinct, Johnny Marr-in-The-Smiths flavor.

Next up: the unavoidable rhythm section then changed “Most Wanted” from girlish pop candy into a dance-floor kindling. Disappointing.

The highlight of the night was on deck, though, in “You Know What I Mean.” Follin, demure in a deep blue dress and denim jacket, was a powerhouse of controlled emotion, belting out the refrain—“Cause I am afraid of the light, yeah you know what I mean / And I can’t sleep alone at night, yeah you know what I mean”—with theatrical perfection.

Cults then offered fun versions of “Bumper”—Oblivion drawing appreciative screams whenever he leaned into the microphone—and the aforementioned “Rave On,” followed by an aggro-cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,”  a video projection-enhanced version of “Walk At Night” and the crowd-pleasing “Go Outside” before wrapping up with “Oh My God.”

“We don’t think we’re rock stars enough yet to play encores,” Oblivion told the crowd before the final song. “So try to have as much fun as possible during these final three minutes.” And true to their word, when the final notes of “Oh My God” ended, so did the show.

The verdict: It was OK. The sound was really bad. I was not especially pleased with the heavy drum-and-bass of the set (not like Cults asked me or anything). There were enough transcendent moments, though, to shine through the murky sound and relentless thudding. Follin is on her way to a special place among female singers, it seems—when she is on, she is amazing—and Oblivion seemed to have grown impressively as a guitar player since Cults last left the studio. When I could hear him, anyways.




TAGGED: buffalo entertainment district, concerts, cults, indie rock, review, town ballroom

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