As anyone who's been to a major festival in the last year knows, Cut Copy is a scene stealer. The Australian dance-rock quartet isn't quite a main-stage headliner yet, but wherever they're playing is probably where the crowd is having the most fun. Over three albums of increasingly ambitious disco that draws equally from post-punk, house and the stoner dreaminess of ELO, these four lanky, arguably dorky dudes keep all the live energy of drums and guitars with all the sonic potential and hands-up joy of the recent electronica wave.
At the Palladium Wednesday night, for all their craft and synth-wrangling skill, Cut Copy figured out something about today's young audiences that DJ's know intuitively and that most bands never realize -- that people just want jams. All the time. No slow-dance interlude two-thirds through a set, no deep-album excursions and no talking. Just jams. And that's why they might be one of the best live bands going today.
Of the band's 14 songs Wednesday night, literally every single one had some massive hook and instantly distinguishing sonic quality. From the goofball dial tone bloop of "Saturdays" to the synthetic marimba of "Blink and You'll Miss a Revolution" to the shoe-gazey guitar groans of "So Haunted," Cut Copy knows that the first job of making good club music is to kick up your blood pressure the second you realize what song it is, and that's done by crafting really standout sounds.
Cut Copy's single "Lights and Music" is one of the simplest mission statements from a band ever put to wax. Here's its chorus, sung atop a dirtied Moog bass and little electropop blips in the Mojave tent on Friday night: "Lights and music are on my mind / Be my baby one more time."
We appreciate such forthrightness in our jams. But the Australian band's neon-giddy nighttime set in the Mojave provided a handy contrast to one taking an opposite tack across the field -- the Toronto duo Crystal Castles, who shround their dance beats in 4AD goth ambience and singer Alice Glass' feral shrieks and narcotized whimpers. On their self-titled first album they still had the trappings of a noise act, but on their also self-titled followup last year, they turned to straightforward songwriting and sleeker productions. Turns out both Cut Copy and Crystal Castles do better when they give up pretenses and put their considerable skills to the mission of moving bodies.
Cut Copy has become a cleanup hitter in festivals for their unapologetic anthems that still come bristling with intriguing productions. 2008's "In Ghost Colours" put a thumb on the scale for hands-up singalongs, while 2011's "Zonoscope" tilts a bit in the other direction -- lots of drum breakdowns, six-minute-plus songs and a kind of desert spaciness that should be a natural fit here. Cuts like the great kickoff single "Need You Now" settled in for a long haul of head-bopping, and frontman Dan Whitford warned that "This one's your last chance for a slow dance." Most everyone obliged.
But their hits are hits for a reason, and the reason is this -- Cut Copy was raised on Fleetwood Mac and ELO as much as Giorgio Moroder, and they are unafraid of pure chorus fromage. Coupled with their expertly crescendoing arrangements and tongue-in-cheek humor ("Saturdays" kept its goofball dialtone sample, "Pharaohs & Pyramids" is an actual song about ancient Egypt), the energy rarely flagged and the set ended with the lights up and a few dozen-thousand people suddenly meeting the stranger they were grinding on and grinning.
It's a mantra for many a band seeking inspiration: back to the stacks, back to the stacks, back to the stacks. The Australian trio Cut Copy, whose free-spirited break-out album, "In Ghost Colours," finely plumbed the depths of '80s electropop, knew they needed some new directions for their upcoming album, due in February.
Still, it's hard to turn away from what launched your band -- and the records made by the floppy-haired wounded souls of the '80s did just that for Cut Copy. "In Ghost Colours" was chosen as one of the best albums of 2008 by the Times in the U.K. and Pitchfork Media, received fairly glowing reviews all around for its roving collagist style, and set the band aloft on global tours. In Cut Copy's home country, the album eventually reached No. 1 on the ARIA charts, bumping aside surfer bro Jack Johnson.
And while cleaning up the charts and lapping the planet is nice, it doesn't provide much time for reflection. When the band members returned to Melbourne, Australia, setting up a studio in an old textile warehouse, they finally got a chance to listen to all the bounty they'd bought in record shops all over the world. A new sound emerged, one born from hours of listening to the tribal, Afro-pop-influenced sounds of the Talking Heads and Brian Eno, Fleetwood Mac's crystalline "Tusk" and the background soul singers on David Bowie's "Young Americans."
Now, it could be said that those same records are currently inspiring countless young bands, but the outcome for Cut Copy sounds promisingly fresh so far. The first track from its as-of-yet untitled work is fittingly titled "Where I'm Going." The vocal harmonies recall a touch of the Beach Boys, but it's driven by a firm rhythmic backbone, which vocalist Dan Whitford says is a constant throughout the new work. So expect more percussion, but overlaid with melodic psychedelic washes and bleached-out harmonies.
We talked with Whitford about these latest directions, a missed opportunity with Ariel Pink and turning down Lady Gaga, which they've talked about plenty before, but we just had to get the explanation for ourselves because we're selfish like that. The video above, a Pop & Hiss exclusive, is one of a series of "behind the scenes" segments on the recording of the new album. This one takes place in Whitford’s recording studio and music room in Australia.
-- Margaret Wappler
So you've been heavily inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” album, as well as the Talking Heads and David Bowie for this new record. How did those influences make their way onto your new record?
It’s really just a matter of developing as a songwriter. I guess the idea of that percussive stuff and the soul stuff, particularly on "Young Americans," felt new and exciting. We were thinking about songwriting in a way that’s different from "In Ghost Colours." For one thing, this is probably the most time that we’ve spent just out in the world making a record. In the past, we've always had other things going on. I've worked as a graphic designer; Tim [Hoey] is a DJ; Mitchell [Scott] works in Web development. This time we focused on the art of making a record before anything else. We went off on more tangents, had the opportunity to take ideas to completion more. Inevitably, being a band isn’t the best way to pay the bills, but we don’t have to be concerned with other ways of making money as much anymore. We can be a bit more concerned with making music.
Cut Copy was just full of surprises during its recent two-night stand in L.A. After having the LAFD unceremoniously shut down a beyond sold-out gig at the Music Box @ Fonda on Tuesday night, the Australian dance mob wisely moved the whole operation to the much larger and more comfortable confines of the Club Nokia downtown for the second show.
Any danger and lawless excitement of the previous night’s proceedings was drastically muted by Club Nokia's plush “new car smell.” Still, Cut Copy and their able support acts worked just that much harder to fire up the impressive crowd, which packed the main floor all the way to the bar and well into the balcony.
Following an abbreviated concert after a visit from the fire marshal, concert promoter Goldenvoice has announced that the second night of Cut Copy's two-date stay has been moved from Hollywood's Henry Fonda Theatre to downtown's Club Nokia. The Australian dance act will perform tonight at 9. Additional tickets will be available at the door.
Ticketholders: Don't worry, your original ticket is still valid.
Tipped off by an anonymous phone call, three inspectors from the Los Angeles Fire Department's "nightclub unit" showed up at the Henry Fonda around 11 p.m., said Capt. Philip Ayala. After a quick survey of the theater and lobby, the venue was deemed overcrowded.
A message in an e-mail blast via the band's publicity firm Girlie Action read, "We're very sorry that the show last night was cut short. We were shut down because of capacity issues last night. In order to accommodate everyone tonight, we had to move to a bigger venue."