If you name your band after any sort of computer operation, this is as close as you’re going to come to looking cool
Cut Copy + Holy Ghost + El Guincho
March 17, 2008
The cover of Australian dance-rock trio Cut Copy‘s 2004 debut Bright Like Neon Love is an extreme close-up on a surreally alabaster female face wearing shiny lipstick and mirrored sunglasses, a lit-up nighttime New York skyline reflected in the lenses. Electroclash was still kicking in 2004, and that icily retro cover looks like it could’ve been made by a random electroclash image-generator, but the inner CD sleeve is more telling. Nearly every page of that sleeve is a homemade collage: embarrassing studio photos of the band, hand-scrawled inside jokes, and worshipful fourth-grade-binder caricatures of their musical heroes, a pantheon that includes Chic and Giorgio Moroder but also Guided By Voices. Take out the disco signifiers, and this looks like some K Records shit. And so the packaging for Bright Like Neon Love maps out the aesthetic terrain that Cut Copy have explored ever since. The band has carved out a nice little space for itself at the intersection of glittering filter-disco bump-grind and sundazed fuzz-pedal indie-pop. That’s turned out to be a remarkably lasting and effective combination; the band gets a great deal out of the wide-eyed sense of wonder and the potential for shameless hookiness that both genres share. At first, Bright Like Neon Love felt to me like decent mid-level dance-rock, pretty good but no Echoes. Then, a year later, I got my first iPod and realized quickly that I was always happy to hear Cut Copy come up on shuffle. I’m never not in a mood to hear this band; even if they aren’t doing anything New Order hasn’t done better, they’ve got jams for days. And the fact that these gawky studio-rats can make this stuff work live is cause for further celebration.
Cut Copy’s set at the Mercury Lounge last night was mostly devoted to stuff from their forthcoming sophomore set Ghost Colours, which is basically Bright Like Neon Love except sharper and more assured and with a greater predilection toward cheesed-out C&C Music Factory/Vengaboys technopop keyboard riffage, the inclusion of which is the first indication that they’re willing to do something other than make the New Order anthems that New Order isn’t making anymore. Onstage, they don’t look like much: three skinny and vaguely uncharismatic dudes and a touring bass player who looks like they recruited him from Australia’s third-best Creed tribute band. They keep a couple of banks of electronic doohickeys onstage, but they don’t spend much time messing with them. And despite the oddly reassuring presence of guitars and drums, most of what we’re hearing clearly comes from synthesizers or backing tapes. Still, their considerable hooks hit a lot harder in a packed-in club with a going-nuts crowd. During the buildups, frontman Dan Whitford would slowly raise his hands toward the ceiling like he was the vampire DJ from Blade. Sometimes he’d even announce it: “This is the buildup.” And it worked. The drums would kick in, the melody would soar, and people would go off. I’ve only seen a Mercury Lounge crowd lose it like that once, and it was for the obnoxiously obvious Girl Talk party-starting machine. It’s enough to make me wonder what’ll happen when Cut Copy plays an actual dance club like Studio B, where they’ll be tonight. Maybe you should go find out.
I’m not entirely sure why someone booked DFA DJ duo Holy Ghost as Cut Copy’s openers. They’re good DJs who certainly know how to construct a set, mostly sticking with recent-vintage NY disco but effortlessly making with the peaks and valleys. Climactic moments like Hercules & Love Affair’s “Blind” sounded pretty incredible. I wasn’t even mad at them for playing a remix of Cut Copy’s “Hearts on Fire” immediately before Cut Copy played because it was a really good remix. But this stuff just isn’t going to work at an indie-rock club like the Mercury Lounge. If a headlining band isn’t playing, nobody is going to dance, and even then it’s a rare occurrence. The best a DJ crew can hope for is the widespread head-nodding that Holy Ghost managed. But with the turntables not even set up onstage, their set just came off like a particularly long break between bands. Or, in this case, between a band and El Guincho.
El Guincho is a kid from Barcelona named Pablo Diaz-Reixa who rearranges chopped-up bits of Afrobeat and tropicalia and whatever else into euphoric little chants that go absolutely nowhere. I’ve tried to give a crap about his hyped-up debut Alegranza, but no dice. It’s some real halfassed polyglot tribal-thump shit, like someone strung together all the least interesting parts from the Avalanches’ sort of overrated Since I Left You. Live, Diaz-Reixa has total negative stage-presence. He crouches behind a drum-machine, scrunches his eyes up tight, and does an uncomfortable little dip-knee dance that makes it looks like he really has to take a piss. When he’s not messing with his electronics, he’s chant-singing and banging a drumstick on a tabletop. There were some nice-little drum-patterns in there, but his half-hour onstage couldn’t end quickly enough.