Cults at First Avenue, 4/16/12

First Avenue
Monday, April 16, 2012

View a slideshow from the concert here.

With upbeat melodies and sweet, clean chorus lines, the New York-based Cults were as addictive as lollipops laced with nicotine. Lead singer Madeline Follin was apparently fully conscious of that charm, and took the stage at First Avenue last night dressed in a dark baby doll dress and ballet flats, swaying gently to the introductory synth beats, her long dark hair partly obscuring her face.

For a young band who owe their quick and successful beginning in 2010 largely to the haphazard internet release of their hit song "Go Outside," Cults could easily fall into that fatal category of Great Indie Disappointments. Thankfully, the release of their self-titled full-length record in 2011 proved their worth beyond one-hit-wonder status, and the band has been climbing in popularity since.

On stage, Follin has a sort of innocent-girl sex appeal that she works effortlessly. Her mezzo soprano soared to impressive heights on "Abducted" and the anthemic "Rave On," while "You Know What I Mean," with its dynamic, demanding chorus, was the first song that really grabbed the crowd. Brian Oblivion, Follin's other half and Cults' guitarist/synth player/keyboardist (the band is rounded out by three additional members for live shows), holds down the fort on those swelling tracks like "You Know What I Mean" and the popular "Oh My God," even if his singing--though not bad--wasn't the best match for Follin's infectious candy-cute vocals.

Cults at First Avenue, 4/16/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Musically, Cults borrow much from '60s-era pop--no tune shows this so much as "Bumper," where doo-wop influences were playfully layered with modern beats and synth twists. The lyrics to all Cults songs are almost purposefully simple and sweet--one might even call them twee--like adolescents still hooked on Lisa Frank accessories. The difference is that Cults line their sugary sound with a dangerous edge: "Most Wanted" is deceptively upbeat for the dark themes in the lyrics, and the way Follin sneaks it in isn't unlike the way an assassin would sneak arsenic into honey.

The 12-song set burned out like a bright star in just over half an hour, and with the band ending with "Go Outside" and "Oh My God," there really was no need for an encore--which was kind of nice, really, to just be done with the set when it's over, without all the fake endings and "Will they? Won't they?" In fact, that good call highlights the nice surprise that was the stage presence of Cults: an unexpected maturity to their banter (limited and tasteful) and straightforward, energetic playing, where all the live members are engaged and enjoying themselves.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Second openers Spectrals were really good. Of course, they got even better once I realized they were from England.

The Crowd: The whole range of twentysomethings, who managed to look bored and ambivalent throughout first openers Mrs. Magician and Spectrals. The crowd fluffed up to nearly full by the time Cults took the stage at 10:30. Not bad for a Monday night, and most people managed to look like they were in a good mood.

Overheard in the crowd: About lead singer Louis Jones of Spectrals:
"He looks kind of like Prince Harry with way more hair." (#truth)


The Curse
Slow Song
Most Wanted
You Know What I Mean
Never Saw The Point
Rave On
Everybody Knows (Leonard Cohen cover)
Walk At Night
Go Outside
Oh My God

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