Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cults mixes sugar and spice at the Riot Room

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 10:45 AM

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Yesterday afternoon, at approximately 3 p.m., I discovered news on Facebook that relieved me considerably: the Riot Room reported that they did, indeed, have air conditioning. Thank god. As any regular Kansas City show-goer can testify, the Riot Room has been known to reach levels of astonishing humidity that can surpass the jungle-funk of a junior high boys' gym locker room. 

However, last night's show -- New York's Cults, along with locals Minden, and openers Guard and Writer -- still reached levels of heat that beaded arm sweat on even the coolest crowd member. Luckily, the sweat, unsavory smells and lukewarm beer were all completely worth it. Cults imbued its breezy doo-wop with a harsh coating of New York fuzz, making for a show that spanned the spectrum from bubble-gum pop to grungy underground.

Madeline Follin's sweet, surprisingly soulful warble is Cults' most striking asset. Live, the band's trademark genre mash-up stands on its own, boasting more smoke and grit than summertime pop. (Incredibly, the Riot Room's overwhelming body odor and sweltering heat heightened the trippy, reverb-laden fervor.) Along with duo's other half, Brian Oblivion -- who sported some very '80s elbow-length black hair -- and a very solid backing band, Follins rocked, rolled and swayed her way through the band's 40-minute set. 

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My first thought on the band's set: It's almost like Best Coast, if she didn't suck. At times, the set also recalled some of the Raveonette's harsher, more industrial moments. Follins carried her sweet, pixie-high voice to heights that were truly impressive. "God, she's so hot," the guy next to me confided to his fellow bro. She also had an expressive, earnest stage presence. "I like that move," Follins commented to a dancing crowd member, pointing and smiling. 

Three-quarters of the way through Cults' set, the band's single, "Go Outside," was met with rabid cheers. Kansas City provided the child-like backing chorus to Follins' catchy lead vocals, and a heavy-handed, angry fade-out provided a satisfying finish. Cults blasted through several other gritty tunes before calling it quits before midnight.

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Granted, Cults' sound may not be unique; but they're certainly doing retro-pop a rousing favor rather than tacking on to a well-trodden genre for shits, grins and a country-wide road trip. Besides -- and this may be a bit of the stretch -- but, in the wake of Amy Winehouse's death, it's reassuring to find that Dirty Dancing-esque '60s doo-wop still has some currency -- and a hearty dose of sex appeal, too.

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