Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jun 20th 2010 3:35PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
NXNE festival programming that can see wildly divergent acts booked back-to-back encourages club-hopping, but it was still somewhat of a surprise to arrive at a largely deserted Lee's Palace an hour before hyped New York darkwave act Cold Cave's late-night set. But what a difference a half-hour can make -- by the time three keyboards were lined up side-by-side across the front of the stage at 1AM, the club was jammed with buzzing fans clearly eager to take in the band's dark, moody electro.
And dark was the theme of the evening, with frontman Wesley Eisold and bandmates Dominick Fernow and Jennifer Clavin standing behind their synths clad all in black (dudes, the effect was on point, but heavy jackets on one of the warmest days of the summer? Really?), silhouetted only by the flicker of the fever-dream video projections on a large screen behind them.
The shadowy atmosphere perfectly suited the four-piece's thundering, ominous take on electro. Opening with a buzzy, distorted prolonged three-synth assault before drummer Guy Licata kicked a beat into high gear, it was clear that they were going to bring the noise -- who needs guitars when you can kick up a racket like this with a couple of keyboards?
While the sound mix rendered Eisold's dramatic Peter Murphy-esque vocals largely indistinguishable (Clavin's occasional backing parts seemed to fare better), Cold Cave's songs rely more on their canny mix of electro-pop, post-punk, and new wave with an almost industrial edge to get their message across more than the flat, pointed vocals or tortured-romantic lyrics.
Despite the fact that he was shrouded in darkness for the entire set, the lanky Eisold makes for a compelling frontman, barking into the mic flanked by Fernow attacking his sampler with gusto and Clavin holding down the melodic front. While live drummers are always preferable to canned beats, and Licata is clearly a particularly skilled skinsman, his automaton-like stoicism brought new meaning to the phrase "drum machine."
Flying through their tight set with nary a word to the audience, Cold Cave reached their peak during dancier numbers like 'Youth and Lust' and 'I.C.D.K.', which got fists pumping and the front part of the room grooving (oh, Toronto -- always with the laggards at the back). While they're clearly unafraid to work the arty angle of their sound, what makes Cold Cave work is the deep pop hooks embedded in their ambitious mix, like the almost eurodisco beats that snake through their best tracks.
There are times when buzzed-about festival showcases fall flat in the face of their build-up, but Cold Cave proved to be red-hot at NXNE thanks to a well-honed live show that nicely fleshes out their dynamic debut.