San Diego is something to behold in the music scene at large. We are always on the perpetual state of being a big music city like that of New York or Los Angeles but we there is always a something hindering it. It is not because San Diego is not full of talented and creative people. I honestly don’t know where to pinpoint it, but I have my theories for a later date. Take for example, bands like Rocket From the Crypt and the scene by them in the 1990’s or more recently, the scenes in San Diego that brought such acts as Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, and Wavves. Most acts have to get out of San Diego to truly become successful, going to LA rather than sticking it out here, but for good reason too. This includes the live band I’m covering tonight, Cults, whose members all originate from San Diego. On May 18th, 2018, as things move elliptical, San Diego was treated to a two shows for one night special at the Soda Bar. Cults demonstrates how talented they can be with their blissful pop tunes and also showed the potential San Diego has to be a great city for music.
Cults are a New York based duo which consist of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion with San Diego connections. Both originally met in San Diego and with backing members still hailing from San Diego such as Cory Stier, who books at the Soda Bar, and Gabriel Rodriguez from the band Hideout. With their debut album garnering high praise from music journalism such as Pitchfork, they were able to succeed in the early 2010’s but trying to stay relevant in an ever-changing music scene is a difficult task. Their debut consists of innocent pop sounds of 50’s girl groups through the lens of vaguely satirized sounds of being in a cult, hence the name. With their third album Offering, on Sinderlyn Records, the retro sound is replaced with diving head first into pop music. What gone is the cynicism of the religious aspects of Cults, but still having songs such as “Offering”, “Good Religion”, and “With My Eyes Closed?”. The last time they performed in San Diego, Cults played at the Irenic with openers that included Curls, a band formed by Christopher Owens, who also shares a track with Cults called “I Got Your Message”. Interestingly enough, Christopher Owens was raised in a Christian cult called Children of God. Everything comes full circle I guess. On Friday night, Cults played a special two shows in one night gig with Reptaliens for an intimate crowd.
Reptaliens were the openers for Cults and I was excited to see them. The band is signed to Captured Tracks, a sister label of Sinderlyn Records, the label that Cults are signed to. Reptaliens kicked off the show with fog and someone in a ghillie suit arriving to introduce the band to the crowd. The band played many great songs that the crowd were into such as "29 Palms", "If You Want", and my favorite, "666Bus". In the middle of their set, they even had someone in the front of the crowd with a reptile mask on. If I had the chance to come to the second show of the night, I would've just to see them perform again. They were that good. The crowd fed off their performance and the band were ready to play an encore at the end but unfortunately did not have enough time. After Reptaliens great set, everyone was anticipating what Cults had in store.
For the intimate show, Cults embodied the blissful sounds of indie pop from all three of their albums to their adoring fans. Cults were able to utilize a lot of songs from across their discography to keep fans from all of their eras happy. They played songs from their self-titled debut, highlighting a lot of their past singles such as “Oh My God”, “You Know What I Mean”, and a song I forgot I really love, “Bumper”. Their songs can almost be distinguished by the visual projections they were screening in front of them. From the fuzzy television statics that highlighted their album “Static” to plaid designs and swirling hypnotic lines that helped transcend the music. Some of the projections were blocked by people much taller than me but the visual projections created another trippy effect running through the back of people’s hair. The musicianship was very tight and professional from the band. Brian Oblivion’s guitar is as bright and shimmery as ever and was placed really well in the mix. The drums are a big component in Cults’ debut, especially to match the Hal Blaine level orchestration of the pop sound. Luckily, Cory Stier flexed his drumming strengths that the band not only a band with great pop arrangements but a band that with seasoned players as well. Madeline’s vocals are front and center and they are what truly shine in their performance. She sings each song effortlessly that sound as strong as the recordings themselves. Another note, the fans of the matinee performances ranged from ages across the spectrum. It is worth highlighting because live music audience, especially for indie music tend to be in their early 20’s before becoming domesticating to a home life, but here there is a love of music from all ages. This makes the classic pop music sounds of Cults even creditable as they can be enjoyed by anyone. The sight of different age groups at shows reminds me of Twin Peaks and how people there are still seeing incredible music at the Roadhouse from any ages. The show at Soda Bar gives credibility that this is in fact a thing. They end the set with their hit single “Go Outside” from where it all began and rightfully so. The song is as timeless as the era the songs borrows from and with samples from Jim Jones himself, it is the ideal closer for a band called Cults.
In this way, Cults showed the potential of what seasoned musicians can do in San Diego and the strengths of San Diego as a big music city. With the audience lined up for both shows, it can demonstrate how much San Diego enjoys music. The staff at the Soda Bar is consistently great (Shout out to Ryan who works at the front door and is also a San Diego legend). Please also check out Hideout, a San Diego project, who has members playing with Cults currently. I want to thank both Cults and Reptaliens for putting on two awesome shows in one night. I want to also thank Soda Bar for hosting a big San Diego show, especially to Cory Stier who probably had a hand in orchestrating the event. This was a wonderful evening and I look forward to San Diego future and Cults’ career.