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Cults struggle to sway at Brighton Music Hall

Posted by Michael Brodeur  June 13, 2011 04:40 PM

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Guitarist/vocalist Brian Oblivion (left) and Vocalist Madeline Follin (right) of Cults' performing in NYC at the Knitting Factory, August 2010.

Tom White for the New York Times

CULTS
With: Guards and Writer
At: Brighton Music Hall, Sunday

The music of Cults have enough of the trappings of 1960s girl groups – glockenspiel parts, beats snatched from the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las, a thick echo suffusing the whole shebang – that it's tempting to categorize them as eager devotees. But there was something missing Sunday as the band (bumped up from a duo to a five-piece) played the Brighton Music Hall. That something just might have been magic.

Certainly, they were given no help by the sound mix, which was uniformly terrible from the openers on down. Feedback was rampant, and the reverb was so oppressive that what might have been intended as a wall of sound was a river of murk instead. The handclaps that kicked off opener “Abducted” were just about the last things to come through with their edges intact.

But Cults revealed their own weaknesses throughout their brief performance. Key among them was frontwoman Madeline Follin. A bland singer of no special ability or tone, she had a marked tendency when raising her voice (as in the choruses of “You Know What I Mean” and “Rave On”) to sound more petulant than emphatic. The only time she displayed any discernible attitude was during the slow, bluesy “The Curse"; when she swayed her hips with the beat, she came off not sultry so much as tacitly threatening.

The rest of Cults gamely soldiered on, but none of the group's songs was ever more than the sum of its parts. The plonky bass of “Most Wanted,” the frantic, high-fretted tremolo picking of “Never Heal Myself” and the alternating vocal between Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion on “Bumper” all sounded perfectly nifty without adding anything in particular. Cults ultimately seemed to be simple twee indie pop along the lines of Tennis, dolled up in girl-group clothing.

Whether the echoey guitars were intentional or just a result of the mix, opening band Writer sounded like a two-person Walkmen with tighter songs. Following them were Guards, who were boppier (even as they dipped into elements of psychedelia and sludge rock) and, with their constant and effusive thank-yous, unfailingly polite.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com.

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