Live: Cold Cave Let The Light In, But Only Briefly


Cold Cave w/Austra
Bowery Ballroom
Saturday, August 6

Better than: Keeping it all inside.

Tortured, downtrodden, and fashionable, Cold Cave has dug deep and thoroughly into the ever-resurfacing chasm of 80’s nostalgia. Their blend of gothic new wave, industrial, and synthed-out disco has all the melodramatic stoicism of that decade’s often dread-soaked spin on pop. But on Saturday, the band’s music wasn’t the brooding or foot-dragging polemic that it had been built to resemble. With severe and almost comical furiousness, Cold Cave seemed less focused on dwelling on the pain as they were on expelling it openly and uncouthly.

A range of musicians has supported singer/songwriter Wesley Eisold throughout his project’s lifespan, so what to expect from his performances has been unpredictable. What began as a typically static, knob-twisting experience has grown into something resembling a leather-bound trapeze act. After a solitary peaceful moment spent handing out sunflowers to the audience, the band’s floodgates of angsty ire swung open and remained that way. Neither Eisold nor fellow keyboardist Dominick Fernow seemed very attached to the space behind their instruments, and both often launched to the front of the stage—Eibold dragging his mike stand in tow bending down to the audience on slender hips with howls and handshakes, Fernow screaming and shooting death stares, caught in some trance of perma-roid-rage. They taunted, cajoled, and ingratiated the steadily upbeat and equally stylish audience all at the same time. It’s no small feat getting a sea of black-clad onlookers to express unbridled emotion, but watching a band obviously concerned with image enough to wear leather jackets during blazingly hot festival day slots care so little about their own propriety was disarming and inviting of movement.

The band’s audacity and stage presence has boomed exponentially, even as it has shrunk to a three-piece on stage. On Cherish The Light Years (Matador) the steady stomp that categorically defined its earlier work has been allowed to roam a bit. The majority of Cold Cave’s new material still adheres to an authoritarian rigidity; songs like “Icons of Summer” and “Confetti” had a foreboding, fall-in-line pace that were made even more neurotic by devilish and grimy synth melodies that rarely wavered from the prescribed tempo.

But there are also previously unexplored moments of both expansion and contraction in their rhythms, and even flourishes of uplifting—and what some dark, dour youth might consider tender—moments. “Icons Of Summer” had an ascending beauty hidden in the song’s imagery of superficiality and dark instrumentation. “Villains of the Moon” showed Cold Cave moving tangentially along similar paths as other new wave enthusiasts like Cut Copy by embracing a giant, arena sound. Cold Cave’s version of bombast still dwelt in the recesses of nihilistic complacency, but there was also a bittersweet exultance in flushing out the pangs of disappointment and defeat —a musical accompaniment to shallow but necessary rebellion, like trashing your well-providing, creatively stifling parent’s vacation timeshare. “Catacombs” shared a similar longing and obsession with the future that continues to be a prevalent a theme through much of Eisold’s music, yet remained hopeful with a bounce and anthemic soar. At some point during the recent, cloud-covered past, the sun must have poked out just long enough for Cold Cave’s sunflower-and-weed-filled garden to flourish.

Critical bias: Wes Eisold’s voice could only exist in the genre in which he operates.

Overheard: “Those bookends are beautiful.”—about Austra’s pair of brunette backup singers.

Random notebook dump: Opener Austra was a sultry and energetic blend of siren harmonies and dirty disco. It’s like if Abba went Wiccan.

Set list:
Icons of Summer
Youth and Lust
Comes Close
Theme From Tomorrowland
Villains of the Moon
I’ve Seen the Future and It’s No Place for Me
Burning Sage

The Laurels of Erotomania

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