Cults' shoegazing indie sound shines

Review: Cults, The Vanderbuilts successfully open University Union's first Bandersnatch show of the semester with enthusiastic brand of indie-rock.

Pulling off a successful performance in Syracuse’s Schine Underground isn’t easy. Even a talented act must face the threat of questionable acoustics and indifferent student audiences. Luckily, Cults and the Vanderbuilts overcame both obstacles with the artistic finesse of bands well-versed in small-venue performances.

“We played our first show here,” Vanderbuilts frontman Sam Kogon told the crowd between songs.

Photo: Irina Dvalidze
The Vanderbuilts open for Cults at the Schine Underground.

Now enjoying the positive reception of their first full-length album, Miguel’s Orchard, the five-piece rock band first caught students' ears by winning the Battle of The Bands in the Underground nearly two years ago.

It’s obvious the Vanderbuilts have matured since then, both in their songwriting and their showmanship. What’s also clear is that the individual group members are keen on their ability to respond to one another. The most technical bass, keys, violin and voice parts all unfold with the collaborative ease of seasoned session musicians. “Scratch,” one of the group's most energetic numbers, balanced percussive frenzy with tight melodic control. But there was a noticeable air of cautiousness from the group as well. Whether performing old or new material, the band seemed acutely aware of keeping the performance on track, perhaps triggered by the low energy level of the audience.

Following the Vanderbuilts, Cults made an aurally spacious impression on the Underground in a swirl of underwater sounds and colorful video art. Their set synthesized the nuance of their in-studio soundscapes with the immediacy of a live rock band’s, well, rockingness. Lead singer Madeline Follin looked like a dancer out of a '60s Scopatone video, coyly playing with her sundress in rhythm with bass lines from decades past. Brian Oblivion, Nathan Aguilar and Gabriel Rodriguez were dressed uniformly in slacks, white untucked dress shirts and ties. If you didn’t know they were in a band, you’d think they were an underfunded tech support team. Luckily, their musicianship didn’t echo their dishevelment.

Facing a warm if not altogether engaged crowd, the group held its attention by gradually teasing the hits out of their set. Energy levels varied between the peppiness of closer “Oh My God” and the sinister lurch of “The Curse.” The telltale xylophone riff that opens “Go Outside” brought the most enthusiastic cheers of the night from the crowd, who lovingly received the band’s most well-known song.

Credit for the performances is also due to University Union president Rob Dekker, who ran sound for the Vanderbuilts, and engineer Melanie Renecker, who provided live support for Cults. Both ensured the sonic stability of the first Bandersnatch show of the semester, a true success in terms of performance if not audience enthusiasm.

I like Sam Kogon. He is a

I like Sam Kogon. He is a fine songwriter/musician.

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