Tag Archives: Cut Copy

In concert: Cut Copy (Toronto; April 7, 2011)

Maybe it’s a mental hangover from the marketing behind the Sydney Olympics – maybe it’s Elle Macpherson – but I’ve got this impression of Australians as outdoorsy, sun-kissed beach volleyballers, and neither Cut Copy‘s music nor the ballistic audience reaction to their songs are quashing the impression. Even the latest video is stuffed with sporty imagery. The songs are vigorously athletic; the choruses are lung-busters.

Cut Copy’s oft-tapped as a contender for the dance-rock belt now that James Murphy’s mothballed LCD. Oh, maybe. They’re certainly building momentum in textbook fashion: a plum opening slot for Franz Ferdinand in ’05; hooking the blogosphere with that phenomenal In Ghost Colours LP in ’08, mainstream inroading with this winter’s Zonoscope (#46 U.S.). Heavy on classic pop structures and light on pastiche, Cut Copy’s best songs also tend to make great singles, a gateway to wider acclaim without a hint of hipster irony to despoil their innocent sheen. I said it earlier this winter: Cut Copy’s three albums into creating one of the great dance-rock mixtapes.

Cut Copy’s only being practical when they schedule all-ages gigs, but in Toronto’s case that means the Sound Academy, a venue no one admits to liking, although they keep cabbing down Cherry St. way nonetheless. I don’t like the joint any more than you do, but the last CC Academy gig (September ’08; Presets opening) was amazeballs, so I gathered my glow sticks and left my heavy outerwear at home for last Thursday’s (April 7) show. Would magic repeat?

Enhh. Well…

Don’t blame the crowd for anything that went amiss, unless you’re a hater. This bunch must’ve come straight from last Friday’s Blue Jays season opener, an arm-waving, chorus-belting, smartphone-clicking, rump-bumping gang fixated on starting summer early. If Cut Copy’s mandate was to ensure everybody shed a little winter weight, they succeeded. The heavily coupled-up crowd was as smiley and animated as you’re likely to see for any indie buzz band passing through town. I started looking around for American Bandstand‘s crane cams after a while. Dick Clark would’ve loved this scene.

Cut Copy’s sky-high vibe is something to behold. Every pre-chorus comes across as a well-drilled exercise in tension release, the throng pogoing in place before each monster chorus evokes requisite whoops and devil’s horns. I had sweaty forearms smashing into me all night long. Head Cutter Dan Whitford coaches the crowd: “Okay Toronto, now this is the breakdown. When we get to the chorus, we want you to go absolutely crazy.” And they do. He’s probably cheerleading by rote rather than necessity, but the result is Cut Copy appear incapable of dullness: even the 13-minute “Sun God,” which capped the main set, kept heads a-bobbing and feet a-shuffling. You should see my shoes, by the way.

On performance merit, Cut Copy’s getting there. There are a helluva lot of vocal tracks built into the songs, and as they bring more live vocals into the program, Cut Copy risk harmony misfires. There were a few. And Whitford’s voice was pushed way out front a few times, but that’s more of a mixing error. And speaking of the mix, it wasn’t great: the mid-range frequently disappeared, burying detail beneath Mitchell Scott‘s drums and Tim Hoey‘s guitar. It was a noticeable distraction.

The In Ghost Colours songs shone. As Who’s Next or Rio or Funeral tunes are to Who or Duran or Arcade fans, they’re pedigree songs from a beloved band’s high-water mark. From the first giveaway notes, each of “Nobody Lost, Nobody Found,” “Lights & Music” and “Hearts On Fire” sparked singalongs. It’ll be the same 10 years from now. Happily, most of the newer songs kept pace. “Where I’m Going” was amazing, a stomping mid-tempo bit of merriment with an endless supply of vocal hooks. The aforementioned “Sun God” matched the promise (and running time, thank you very much) of the trance-inducing album version, with Whitfield and Ben Browning frenetically working their synths while Hoey did a lot of potentially destructive things to his guitar. “Need You Now” seems to have emerged as the fan favourite, and its build-release theme worked especially well in the encore.

The curmudgeonly plaint comes down to the feeling Cut Copy are poised to level up but don’t seem entirely sure of how to go about it. Paradoxes abound: are they dancer or are they human? They’ve stripped back the remix elements and segues that featured in earlier live shows. There’s greater emphasis on live instrumentation, but in spite of the supposed increased flexibility, the songs are now tethered to their studio arrangements. The setlist was similarly unsettled: whither “Unforgettable Season” and “Alisa,” both heaven-sent rock tunes? Hell, whither first album Bright Like Neon Love? It’s got a batch of dance singles, but only “Saturdays” made the cut. I think they’re hedging bets by passing on songs from both camps, to be honest. At 73 minutes, the Sound Academy show was a mite short and a little lacking in creative fortitude. I’ve seen Cut Copy deliver a gold medal performance before. Cast this one in bronze.

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Add some music to your day #2: New releases, February 2011

This month in the shopping bag: the kids are alright, the return of 2008’s band-of-the-year, and the English are eating themselves again.

SMITH WESTERNS – Dye It Blonde

All Pop Rocks ‘n’ Coke and Michael Kelso throwing the devil’s horns, or, less impressionistically: woozily high-pitched vocals over pillowy classic rock, spiked with declamatory guitar lines recalling the taffy tang of T. Rex (not to mention David Bowie’s own playing on Diamond Dogs). Dye It Blonde’s emotional gravitas is somewhere below heavy-hitting, but its best songs are affecting anyway. Maybe it’s in the way these guys – the eldest is barely legal, by the way – pump up their songs with tempo changes (“All Die Young,” “Dance Away”) or where-have-I-heard-that post-chorus guitar hooks (“Weekend,” “Still New”). Maybe it’s the redemptive quality of something normally defaulting to masculine softened by the youthfully wan singing. Blonde’s time capsule qualities don’t exactly scream sound of tomorrow, but the tracks are so pleasingly layered I found lots of little treasures while trying to figure it out. The only trick these Smiths left out is glammy handclap accompaniment. You may find yourself supplying your own.

 

CUT COPY – Zonoscope

Dan Whitford’s preference for trad song structure over cycling hooks is one reason Cut Copy look to have the legs to run awhile. For all the things Zonoscope could have been – a two-dimensional commercial sellout; an In Ghost Colours clone; a well-intentioned bummer – the most encouraging thing about its near-excellence is the clear sense of upward development: stronger lyrics, deeper arrangements, increasing mastery of form. CC blew a lot of ammo with last summer’s pre-LP single, the amazingly assured, giddily expansive “Where I’m Going,” and still more with “Take Me Over” in November, but there’s a lotta gold in Zonoscope’s hills, including the ab fab “Alisa,” the soaring successor to Colours’ “Unforgettable Season.” One saber-rattling, sugar-rush rocker per LP shouldn’t be enough when CC does ‘em so well, but we’ll make do when they’re this good. Zonoscope’s club-friendly bookends ply Whitford’s build/breakdown/release paradigm with the same assurance as their 2008-09 live shows, which bodes well for this year’s tour: I don’t know how 15 minutes of “Sun God” will play live (what’s with everyone trotting out sitcom-length epics this winter?), but I’ll be waving my arms in the air like I just don’t care. Cut Copy’s in pretty heady space after three LPs, with the discog already sounding like one of the all-time great dance-rock mixtapes. And there’s the feeling they’re only getting warmed up.

 

WHITE LIES – Ritual

As an anthropological experiment of sorts, I waded into this critically derided LP as a staunch appreciator of its musical antecedents and came away from it understanding said critical majority’s misgivings. And my wallet thinks I should be disciplined for throwing away 15 bucks. That said, I hit repeat on four songs, so Ritual must be doing something right part of the time, yeah? Old rope about the sincerity of imitation aside, those four songs have exactly what I miss in recent work by the bands White Lies are hated for loving, so what’s wrong with that? I mean, don’t people have “types” they date?