(Photos: Peta Calvert)
After the fifth rainiest March on record, the sun has finally begun to reclaim Portland. You see more people out on bicycles, walking dogs and wandering the streets now that the wetness has passed us by. How perfect for a night out to hear the sunny pop of Cults at the Wonder Ballroom.
This show would be the band’s second pass through Portland since the appearance of their much-lauded, self-titled debut last June. And the Wonder is certainly a step up from the intimate Mississippi Studios where they played last time in terms of capacity. But my friends who attended the prior show complained about bad sound, something that the cavernous Wonder Ballroom sometimes struggles with. Would Cults fall victim to the heavy drum and bass syndrome that often plagues performers there?
Despite a posted 11pm start time, Cults took the stage at 10:45pm, immediately launching into “Abducted.” When the drum and bass kicked in, the sound totally washed out Madeline Follin’s vocals and Brian Oblivion’s guitars and keyboards. And for a song that is supposed to get things going, it didn’t do a thing to motivate Portland’s notoriously fickle to jump, dance or move. Heads didn’t even nod. I shit you not.
With fuzzy resonance marring the sound, you really couldn’t hear all the things that make the Cults record so great. All the luminous nuance of the songs was pounded into oblivion (yes, I know) and Follin’s vocals were barely audible. When they did shine through, the frontwoman’s voice sounded deeper and throatier than on the record, but I would take that over the low end assault that gobbled up the set.
The Cults played a scant, swift 45 minute set, which was to be expected when you have one record that runs about 30 minutes. While “Rave On” was drowned out by bass, the quieter “Most Wanted” came off well, if you discount the din of an apathetic crowd that threatened to overpower the band on-stage. Were people there to drink and socialize or listen to Cults and their “Be My Baby” beats? It seemed as if mingling was more important to many of the folks that evening.
The highlights of the show came towards the end of the set. A subdued cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” allowed Follin to show off her pipes and people even danced a little during “Walk at Night.” I don’t want to entirely blame the audience as Cults did really lack stage presence. During big hit “Go Outside” a lone girl invaded the stage and danced and jumped next to Follin (who was clearly trying to ignore her). But there is a problem if a stage invader is more interesting than your frontwoman. To Follin’s credit, she was a good sport and gave the woman a hug once the song ended, albeit a tentative one.
“We don’t believe in encores,” Oblivion said once the trespasser was safely deposited back into the audience. “We think they’re cheesy.” With that caveat, the band ended the set with “Oh My God.” Maybe sensing the end was near, the audience came to life, clapping and dancing. For a moment the room sparkled with energy but it wasn’t enough to keep the evening from being anything more than mediocre.