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Concert Review: Cut Copy/Presets

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I have to confess that I was dubious about stopping in at the Hawthorne Theater to catch Aussie band Cut Copy. They’re huge down under, and I had heard nothing but great things about the so-called electropop band that I missed at Coachella last year. Electropop, though? The first thing that came to mind was the bad taste pop-punk has indelibly left on my tongue: bands like Blink 182 and Everclear who sublimated raw power and made it into something that any fifth-grader can enjoy with his mom. But all my buddies back in LA assured me they’re the band to see; even my pal in Dallas who experienced the tour recently told me, “They’re amazing. Check it out.”

Inside the Hawthorne Theater, my friends and I go to the first of a series of tiny corridors lined by what look to be garish car seat covers. A glimpse of this place gives the impression of an industrial warehouse, replete with exposed pipes, Studio 54 stage lights lining the ceiling, and multicolored rock show posters from years past. Echoes of Tony Wilson’s Factory, or a decent attempt thereof. The very largest bouncer I’ve ever seen in my life informs us over the pulsing, intense electronic noise blasting into our ears from up front that one of our buddies can’t be allowed to the back of the showcase area, as he’s a minor. Ostensibly, in Portland, every club is cordoned off in such a manner: minors on one side, everyone else on the other.

Not to worry, as we shove through the front lines and make as much headway as possible into the seething, sweaty crowds of raver kids who smell awful and really have no intention of letting a couple of guys 10 years their senior and even a third guy closer to their age into their seedy midst. The rest of the crowd shakes and gyrates, eyes closed, grooving to the Presets, the opening band who is supposed to be really hot on the scene and actually sound pretty good. Everyone’s hands are in the air, the music escalating, blasting cortexes and sounding reminiscent of early Underworld. Behind the band, prototypical electronic show lights and dazzling swirls of green energy make for a perfect backdrop for the scene at hand. My other friend turns to me and tries to say something, but I can’t hear him over the noise. He finally pats me on the shoulder, and shows me in text on his phone what he presumably couldn’t orate to me over the loud music, “Too old 4 this.”

Cut Copy comes on at last, the crowd: “Wooooo!” Hands in the air like we’re at some electric bonfire in Hell, the reverberating keyboards encapsulate us all, the band emerge from the side wings to the stage where they take off their jackets and ready themselves at their chosen instrument. All manner of cameras held up in the air over everyone’s heads, lights flashing – POP POP–shaking, gyrating, clapping youngsters, wild paroxysms, as the music onstage – initially reminding one of a kind of electronic Rilo Kiley, then shifting into a kind of distilled Digitalism – blares discordantly over house speakers that clearly can’t take much more of this than we can. The polychromatic lights – the same used by Daft Punk (whose lighting fella has been going along with Cut Copy for this tour) – flash and cascade us with effulgent vibrancy, and it’s all a bit too much.

Keyboardist and front man Dan Whitford reminds one of a sweaty Spike Jonze, bopping his head and raising his arms, pushing back on us as the crowd pushes back like a congregation in hysterics. There’s a palpable sadness that overcomes me at once when I realize how hard everyone – the band and the audience – are vying to produce and enjoy something with some modicum of truth to it; a faithless faith that seems to be waning with every beat, every note of music. Even the changes in each song seemed forced, as though: “Uh, oh, time to change tempo.”

Honestly, the band seemed tired. The audience too could hardly keep the energy up throughout, waiting only until the end of each song to jump and shake the wooden floorboards beneath us, waiting for the band to tell them, “Thank you,” before really getting into it. The music itself, which is indeed “throwback 80’s music,” more theme songs of those supposedly innocuous early video games and Saturday morning cartoons than post-punk or first generation house music, can probably best be described as a mishmash of techno post-pop-punk for the Jonas Brothers crowd.

After the show, I listen to Duran Duran’s “Rio” play and think that this is probably the kind of music that Cut Copy aspires to be but just can’t get into on their own devices. If only they could figure out that mixing genres in such an outrageous fashion just leads to a big, cacophonous mess, particularly when you can’t keep up with the inhuman energy necessitated by such a machination. They should indeed leave miscegenation of culture to the Internet and pop a few more pills before coming back to Portland on their next tour.

by Mathew Klickstein

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