Live: Cults Flirt With The Crowd At Music Hall Of Williamsburg


Music Hall of Williamsburg
Thursday, June 9

Better than: Getting struck by lightning while waiting out the Black Eyed Peas rain delay.

It wasn’t until midway through Cults’ homecoming show, when Madeline Follin fervently swayed and sashayed along with “You Know What I Mean,” that the starry-eyed audience succumbed to the band’s charms. Up until that point, despite a set full of room-engorging jangle, see-sawing dynamics and gleefully tortured lyrics, all wrapped up like Berry Gordy in a blanket, Cults somehow hadn’t fully won over a crowd that was already in love with them.

Cults takes its inspiration from the era when unknown groups needed more than a single EP to provoke adoration. But the group exists in the age of rapid dissemination and early adoption, and the songs they released in 2010 provided listeners who are constantly in search of a new airy indulgence a bit of summery gratification.

But even if it’s not appreciated—or even noticed—by Cults’ always-looking-for-new-things audience, Cults’ music has both depth and chromaticity. The superficial lightness and warmth on Cults’ self-titled debut plays against plenty of sonic bricklaying and collage, noisy decay, and pent-up angst gasping for release. The band launched into its set with an equally pensive and aggressive rendition of their self-titled album’s opening track “Abducted,” which served as an attempt to jolt the audience from their collective aestival haze. The audience was probably set just the way they were, given its relatively subdued, if still enamored enough to smile, reception to the comparatively darker first half of the show.

Things brightened enough during “You Know What I Mean” that the audience, up until then content with simply singing along, decided to finally let down their guard. The hand-holding stroll of the rounded walking bass, the touching plaintiveness in Follin’s voice, the unpredictable full band swells that boomed with urgency—all of it was too irresistible for the crowd to keep its distance.

Cults has a potent grasp for unraveling foreshadowing while masking their full intentions, and Follin and partner Brian Oblivion coolly never telegraphed too much of how their songs would develop, even as they stuck close to the songs’ recorded versions. During “Go Outside”—essentially a Delfonics tribute with its own distinct personality—the plinky glockenspiel riff never could have predicted Oblivion’s downward descent into a droney, tremolo-filled guitar interlude. The band encored with “Oh My God,” its sparkly synths and warm, stretched-out vocal phrases growing heavier as lyrical anxiety reared its head, the drum stomp elevated into a crushing pulse, and abrasive guitars rose. It was equally the soundtrack for a delightful beach getaway and a foreboding future.

Critical bias: I was pretty terrified when, upon arriving at the venue, the only people I saw were teenage couples making out.

Overheard: “I don’t really like [one of the openers’] music, but I’m totally into their Edger Allen Poe references. “

Random notebook dump: Cults guitarist Brian Oblivion tried a bit too hard to tease the audience about the odd world that is Williamsburg: “Brooklyn is fucking weird!” Yeah, dude. We know.

Set list:
The Curse
Slow Song
Most Wanted
You Know What I Mean
Never Saw the Point
Go Outside
Rave On

Oh My God