Live Review: Cults with Magic Kids and White Arrows @ The Crocodile 4/11

photos and review by James Bailey

It was still early in the night as I walked into the mostly empty Crocodile Cafe. There were a few tall tables placed throughout the small crowd, so I assume the venue wasn’t thinking there would be a packed house.

The stage of the Croc was uncharacteristically draped in color as the first band Began to set up. I didn’t know what to expect as the 7 members filled the stage with instruments that could fit in well with many different genres, ranging from World Music to Electro Synth. The guy in front of me had a floor tom and an African Shekere (a gourd covered with a net of beads), while at the other end of the stage someone was wearing an instrument that was most assuredly self made. It looked like a Frankenstein project that consisted of two guitar necks attached side by side. There was a midi keyboard placed where you would usually strum and then it seemed at the last minute he decided to add an LCD panel, just for fun. My friend mentioned to me after the show that he had noticed the panel was showing the same colorful patterns as the lights from the projector attached to the ceiling. Apparently this “instrument” was responsible not only for music but also for the wonderful light falling on the stage.

The first thing the singer of White Arrows said was that this was their first show of their first tour. He spoke with honesty and happiness, and then thanked everyone in the audience for coming to the show so early in the evening. It was 9 o’clock, around the time most 21 and up shows begin. It seems difficult for people my age to make it to the show in time to see the first band, but they often miss out on seeing something new and wonderful that they’d really enjoy.

Synthesizers and New York styled guitar riffs flew from the speakers backed by a strong drum beat and a lulling baseline. The band may have somewhat looked the part, but they didn’t sound like many of the bands I’ve heard coming out of Los Angeles in the past few years. They brought some great energy with them and even had a few songs that got some people dancing, which can often be hard for an opening band to do.

After announcing that the next piece would be a cover, the singer began to beat on a floor tom in time with the drummer behind him. He approached the mic and as soon as he sang the opening line “Hey little girl is your daddy home.” I knew I’d be singing along to the rest of the song — one of my favorites, Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”

White Arrows finished with a few more songs and earned a well deserved applause from all of us. As they emptied the stage I noticed the set list laying on the floor. The list had a bite taken out of it. When I took a closer look at it I realized It was written on pita bread! I guess when you can’t find any paper in the green room you have to be resourceful.

I kinda wish that the bill that night only consisted of White Arrows and Cults. It seemed I shared these feelings with many in the crowd as the night progressed with the next band, Magic Kids.

Anyone that gets up in front of a crowd full of people to perform should be given a chance and deserves attention. It’s an incredibly hard thing to do, especially for the vocalist, since many songs are often about very personal matters. That being said, as a performer you have to give your audience something to appreciate or at least respect. Magic Kids did nothing for me that night. I had high hopes when they started, as I had heard good things about them and was happy that the singer looked a bit like a young David Byrne.

But it took them more than a half hour to set up before they said their name and where they were from (Memphis, TN). They started to punch out some music that sounded far too similar to their label-mates that I enjoy, San Francisco band, Girls. Magic Kids just couldn’t keep my attention. The songs seemed to run together and the only clue they began a new one was when the singer would make some snarky remark into the mic about his sunglasses or look down at his phone to send a text message. At one point, he said I’m going for a “beer break” and disappeared backstage leaving the rest of the band to play an unorganized medley that wasted a few minutes and left the crowd confused.

I feel like if all your songs sound the same, you need to make damn sure that your sound is a good one. The next half hour was boring, and the frontman’s rude banter between songs didn’t make me want to give them much of a chance.

Musically, the two other members that shared the front of the stage were good at what they did. What they did depended on what song they were playing at the time, as they swapped between bass and guitar and took turns with lead vocals. The drummer kept a fantastic beat but unfortunately most of the 6 piece band failed to pay attention to his tempo. Even with all the problems that night, I can truly see promise in this band’s future with practice and maturity. They’re far too fresh to have a frontman with ego issues at this stage in their career.

More and more people filled the club before the headliners took the stage. The Crocodile was a little more than half full when Cults came out. In the recording studio Cults is made up of the beautifully matching duo of guitarist Brian Oblivion and lead singer Madeline Follin. I was happy to find that on tour they fill out their sound with real musicians (4 of them to be exact), instead of just using a backing track for the other recorded instruments.

I was extraordinarily excited to see Cults play live, but I was even more excited simply to hear more music from them. Until that night, I’d only heard the 3 songs that were available on their Bandcamp. Since discovering them a few short weeks ago, I’d played those songs again and again with a strong addiction that comes to me when I hear sweet new tunes. I was craving more.

They opened the night using hand claps and loads of dreamy reverb with a song called Abducted (which you can stream at the bottom of this page at NPR). As the band began to play through all the songs I’d never heard, they easily confirmed my hopes that all of their music is just as fun and gorgeous as the stuff I’d already fallen in love with. Their simple 60’s infused indie pop sound makes me want to dance around in my bedroom with the volume maxed out.

The crowd took some time to warm up to Cults. Which was completely understandable because none of us there knew more than a handful of their songs. After playing a few slower tracks they lightened the nights mood with some upbeat melodies and a bit of encouragement from Madeline. After that plenty of the audience began to move around and dance as the uncomfortable taste left in our mouths by the previous band was forgotten.

Their full length album will be released on June 7th as the first band to sign to Lily Allen’s new label, In The Name Of, which is an imprint of Columbia Records. From what I saw at the show you can expect to hear a lot more vocals from Brian on the record. His slightly deep/dark crooning compliments Madeline’s beautifully sharp voice in a way that proves these two were meant to work together.

Cults are originally from San Diego. They now reside in New York, NY, when not on tour. They were attending film school there when people began to show interest in their music. They’ve taken a hiatus from their motion picture studies to put more effort in their auditory art.

Brian stated towards the end of the night how happy they were that all of us had come out to see them. He said that they never expected their songs to come this far, and they were just gonna see where music was going to take them. I loved his sincerity and I really hope they provide us with some wonderful things in the coming months.

The whole set seemed to fly by, and before I knew it they were already announcing that the next song would be their last. Having a music catalog with less than 15 songs, they probably don’t have much choice when making a set list. I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed when they never came out for an encore, but I was happy with the sample I got. It will definitely hold me over til the release of the record. Cults, you can abduct my ears whenever you wish.

More photos here!

Hear a song: Cults – Go Outside

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