For a show that was on the verge of being canceled it seemed that nothing could stop Cults and Guards, not even a pre-show power outage claiming the whole street would keep these bands from rocking a near capacity crowd. I can’t imagine I was the only one shocked by the amount of people that filled the tiny bar. Cults and Guards have always felt like two bands that were my own little secrets. Though while one more than the other, I did enjoy thinking that I had these bands all to myself. Even though this feeling of artist solidarity was good it was even better to see that the secret was out.
Though the whispers about the show’s headliner had turned into common knowledge the show’s opening band Writer was ready to fill that void. The versatile duo hailing from San Diego was already impressing the crowd with their uniquely melodic sound. With blasts of distorted keyboard, ringing guitar and the hypnotizing lyrics, brothers Andy and James Ralph had my jaw on the floor and my fingers clawing at my iPhone for more information. To even try and compare the duo to another band would only insult how good they really are. Instead of doing this I urge you to find your way over to their website and have a listen for yourself. If you just happened to miss their monumental performance at The Riot Room on Tuesday, don’t feel bad because as luck would have it the band will be playing The Jackpot in Lawrence on Sunday August 8th. Even if you did see Writer I suggest you give a little more of your time to this great band.
Before I could recover from the shock that Writer was the band that I had come to see was about to take the stage. Guards had grabbed me with their free debut LP and released cover songs earlier this year and ever since then the album has yet to leave my iPod. Though I had seen the band perform at SXSW I still felt the need to see the band live. This time around the band not only exceeded my expectations they seemed to rise to another other level. Everything was in sync and you could tell the they were feeling the energy from the crowd.
Songs like “Sail it Slow” seemed to have something extra and left me wanting more. They had really come together as a band in many ways and at times out grown lead singer Richie Follin’s free LP. That is in no way a negative criticism to the album but more of a note on how the band has grown. The sound has a fuller feeling now and the energy of the band has gone through the roof. As I watched them now I felt like I was witnessing something special as the band delivered a set that headliner Cults would have a hard time living up to.
Hell, it was the type of set that most bands would have a hard time living up to. Though Guards were performing on a small stage at an up and coming venue once the show started you couldn’t tell. They acted like they were on an arena level with all the ambiance that comes with a show on that level. The stage was set with a lone lamp to give a living room type feel and enough fog to give that homey feeling a darker vibe. I can always appreciate a band that wants to add a little more to the show than a drum kit and a back-line of amps. Even though their additions are small they give the band a larger feel.
After the layer of fog that consumed Guards had faded it was time for Cults to take the stage. It was obvious that the large crowd filling the venue was there to see Pitchfork’s new favorite band as they all started to push in closer. As the tension for Cults to play those first few notes began to grow, the familiar theme to Twin Peaks blared through the PA. This welcoming intro put a smile on my face and set the tone for the show to come.
The mellow vintage sound of Cults played a nice contrast to the straight forward rock sound of Guards. Their 50’s style tranquility cut through the crowd and sent them swaying back and forth to the sounds of “You Know What I Mean” and “Abducted”. The echoing vocals of Guards’ sibling Madeline Follin commanded respect and had the crowd hanging on every lyric. All eyes were on Madeline as if her flowing dress was a metronome that kept the audience in time.
While Madeline is a big part of the duo that is Cults she isn’t the only thing that is special about the band. The powerful guitar of Brian Oblivion is a major part of the key that is Cults’ success and things were not different on Tuesday as the hair-blinded Oblivion flowed through the set. This was no more apparent than in the song “Go Outside” as the two began to meld into the tranquil lullaby. One of my favorite songs off the band’s self-titled album this was the highlight of the set for me and as I looked out into the crowd I could see most shared the sentiment.
It’s rare that you see a show where the sets just seem to flow right into each other as each band offers the challenge to one up the next. As a whole the show was as near perfect as it gets only solidifying the sentiment that these bands won’t be a secret for long. With Cults nabbing Pitchfork’s title of “Best New Music” and Guards set to release their debut full length it will be a hard night to replicate. Talent like the three bands that shared the stage on Tuesday night never stays a secret for long, but before the world finds out it’s incredibly fun to watch.
By Ryan Davis
Photos by Angela Davis