Cherub-4I have been a vocal champion of Nashville’s Cherub since first watching the duo’s funky exploits in the woods of the inaugural Electric Forest Music Festival back in 2011. An infectious blend of Prince-sexiness and electro-Chromeo quirkiness, Jason Huber and Jordan Kelley had the chops and charm to win over the excitable festival crowd. In the three years that have passed, Huber and Kelley became festival regulars, especially in the electronica/jam band cross-over culture, and released a series of singles that deservedly fueled late-night co-ed mixers (“Doses & Mimosas,” “XOXO,” “Sucker for Love”) and helped the pair land on Columbia Records in 2014 for the release of their Year of the Caprese LP. Still touring in promotion of that album, Huber and Kelley arrived in Cleveland as a beacon of warmth amid an otherwise frigid stretch. An all-ages crowd showed up early to take in the group’s sophomoric summertime vibes, but even in a city that has grown accustomed to mediocrity from its political leaders and sports franchises, Huber and Kelley disappointed.

In theory, the opening support by Atlanta’s multi-faceted ForteBowie and the subsequent emotive-electro of Mystery Skulls makes sense on a frat aesthetic. It was a theme made clear by ForteBowie early in the night, who announced, “This feels more like a party than a concert.” He acted as such, choosing to predominantly work a selection of now-expected hip-hop bangers in line with Rae Sremmurd’s “No Type” instead of challenging the audience with his own left-field styling. With the guest DJ doing his best to keep the audience hyped, the beautiful tones of ForteBowie were extinguished before they could even make it to the front of the house. The pair certainly incited the “turn up,” yet it’s doubtful any left the Beachland with the urge to grab the next FortBowie release.
Mystery Skulls (aka Luis Dubuc) tried to inflate the energy of the room when he kick-started his set with speaker-rattling progressive-house. Admittedly his first tour outside of Southern California under the Mystery Skulls alias (he had toured previously as part of metal/hardcore outfits), Dubuc is still refining the live Mystery Skulls experience.

Hitting the room so hard at the beginning of his set, neither the set-up nor the sound guy seemed prepared when Dubuc would break into the vocal arrangements of cuts pulled from his recent 2014 Forever release. The dynamics of the lyricism and string segments layered within tracks like “Forever” and “Paralyzed” set against the jarring chaos of those track’s basslines is what made the sophomore Mystery Skulls LP so alluring. That sonic juxtaposition just wasn’t present on this night. Despite sound quality flaws, it was still damn near impossible not to groove to the electro-pop of “Ghost.” Similar to Passion Pit and Cut Copy, Dubuc has cultivated a sound with the potential to trend in both the indie and club communities, but he must first understand how to translate his studio work into the live setting — a transition that would be aided by a few more touring members.

By the end of the night, however, it was actually the stage crew that likely spent the most amount of time on stage. Apparently no one warned Dubuc that Cherub were running late for their headlining spot, as the producer cut his set at the standard time, and then left the sound crew to meander around the stage for about an hour trying to keep the crowd entertained until Huber and Kelley finally arrived. Exacerbating this delay was Kelley’s general disregard for being tardy. Upon arriving on stage, Kelley was more concerned about scolding the crew for not preparing his drum machine than offering any reason or apology for the lengthy delay. Even when all the equipment was finally ready, the set was tainted by a near constant hissing from the sound system. An issue that the tech describe as band, and not house, related.

For almost four years, Cherub was “my band,” but on this night, the show was literally painful to watch. When working through fan-favorites, the duo seemed like shells of the charismatic dudes that stunned the Electric Forest crowd for two consecutive years. While a few in attendance chose to skip the set due the delay or move to the free Turbo Suit show in the adjacent tavern once the hiss became unavoidable, the vast majority of the crowd held onto every word of standouts like “Doses & Mimosas” and new hits “Disco Shit” and “Work The Middle.” Like a parental figure that chooses to laugh at a toddler’s indiscretions, most of those in attendance decided against reprimanding the pair for their lackadaisical presence and just went with the flow.

Artists cannot be “on” every night, and for the future of Cherub, I hope this performance was an anomaly within an otherwise stellar tour. In a broader sense, I left the club in the early morning hours (after ending the night with Turbo Suit myself) hoping that music fans would have loftier expectations for live performances and hold artists to a higher level of accountability. Otherwise, what are we really paying for? There are too many free house parties and basement shows with local talent to discover for nationally touring talent to coast through performances. Don’t be that band, Cherub!

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