Photo: Sebastian Mynarski
Going into the Cold Cave show, I had a vague idea of what to expect. Having heard a preview of Cherish the Light Years, the band’s excellent sophomore album, I anticipated the band being awkward and quasi-emo like the John Hughes movies the album shares a sensibility with. It turns out this was way off, evident from the moment they walked onstage wearing all black. While Cold Cave’s first LP sounds like a synth-pop one-off experiment (the band has shared personnel with Give Up the Ghost, Prurient, and Xiu Xiu), their new album pushes their sound forward with a mix of light and dark that is uniquely theirs.
Openers Gardens and Villa proved an interesting choice of tour mates; their bedroom electro-pop was catchy and harmless and their stage presence casual, while Cold Cave came onstage with ambient electronic noise. Gardens of Villa turned in a chummy, likeable performance, stylistically distinct from what would be Cold Cave’s practice of spiking their tuneful synth-pop sensibilities with confrontational elements. An impressive variety of ambient noise would punctuate Cold Cave’s set, filling in the breaks between songs. Except for the drummer, the band performed from stands arranged in a straight line that was reminiscent of Kraftwerk’s iconic stage setup.
Lead singer Wesley Eisold, wore a black leather jacket and combat boots and towered over the other members, commanding attention despite his apparent introversion. After the first song, I thought the band might remain brooding and detached, but by the second song, they became much more animated, especially keyboardist Dominick Fernow of Prurient, as the relatively small crowd remained mostly still. The band’s ominous presence seemed to betray the band’s heart-on-sleeve lyrics and crystalline electronic arrangements, but their dedication to their aesthetic tied the seemingly disparate elements together.
Their set was heavy on songs from their new album. Oddly, the band omitted their first LP’s single, “Life Magazine,” though seemingly not by any aversion to the simpler, poppier songs in their catalog. After one particularly intense, protracted interlude of noise during which the stage monitor vibrated off the subwoofer, they went into one of their danciest songs of the night. Stage banter was minimal, in keeping with their vampire-like stage presence. In one particularly arresting moment, during the lurching “Burning Sage,” while his bandmates were thrashing along to the chorus, Eisold stood stock still, staring at the audience. Their performance convinced me that Cold Cave is no mere side project, but a fully conceived entity with a unique vision and staying power.
Unfortunately, the sound was plagued in the beginning by feedback from a microphone, and the mix was muddy, with the bass overwhelming much of the vocals and the delicate keyboards and samples. The band closed with the anthemic “The Great Pan is Dead,” its rapidfire hi-hat beat showing the best instance of their drummer’s flawless performance, and hurriedly packed their own gear to drive overnight to Tucson. I barely had a chance to grab a CD before they packed up and left.
Local act The Heavens and the Earth, the brainchild of producer Matt McMurray, rounded out the show. Though much of the crowd had filtered out by the time McMurray set up his impressive array of synths and samplers, which was after midnight, what remained was a small, but dedicated group ready to dance. While Cold Cave’s set lent itself to gothy head-bobbing, The Heavens and the Earth put the dance floor in motion with his signature blend of heavy house beats, funk samples and swooshing analog synths. While the three bands that performed were all stylistically very distinct and had only nominal commonality given they existed in the broad realm of electronic music, the show worked surprisingly well. Cold Cave were the captivating centerpiece and The Heavens and the Earth provided release from the tension of Cold Cave’s contrasting signifiers.