Lights & Music: Nate Patrin reviews Cut Copy at the Fine Line
Fine Line Music Cafe, September 16
By Nate Patrin
I dug the indie-gone-Daft Punk cheap thrills of Australian synthpop group Cut Copy’s 2004 debut Bright Like Neon Love, but when their breakthrough In Ghost Colours came out on Modular earlier this year, I was a little more skeptical. Yeah, it sounded like a really good peak-era New Order album to me, and there’s not much wrong with that – except that, well, there already were a bunch of really good peak-era New Order albums about 20 to 25 years ago. Still, laudatory exclamations about Cut Copy were frequently bolstered by one classic fan argument, which cropped up roughly around the time they played SXSW earlier this year: “You’ve gotta hear ‘em live.” And I looked forward to finally figuring out the broadness of their appeal at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago earlier this July – except they wound up getting held up in customs, and the set that was supposed to close out the festival wound up getting cut short. I did manage to catch In Ghost Colours’ first single “Hearts on Fire,” though, and under a canopy of trees with lightning bugs and bats flying around in the 11 p.m. air I started to get a good idea of what the more fervent believers were hearing.
The Fine Line is not a park in Chicago, and unless one floppy-limbed and overeager dancing drunk behind me counts as an airborne animal, not much in the way of flying wildlife, either. But with a bit more time to soak them in, Cut Copy definitely started to click a bit more – though what helped, in this case, is what I couldn’t get from the (admittedly solid-enough) album: warm, glowing lights and a big slab of bass. With a couple eye-catching banks of pseudo-neon light strips flanking the stage and a constant array of colors bathing the entire stage, the visual element of their latest album’s title completes a vivid picture of their catchy, deceptively simple and effortlessly danceable pop – which sounded sharp even from behind the pillars and under the balcony. And you know what? They’re not just a New Order clone – Dan Whitford’s just a bit warmer than Bernard Sumner, and they let slip a little trade secret in dedicating “Feel the Love” to Stevie Nicks: supporting that ‘80s sheen is a spider-silk latticework of ‘70s AM pop.
It should also be mentioned that the Presets – who share a nationality, a thing for new wave/nu-rave crossover and a #1-in-Australia sophomore album (the manic Apocalypso) – made for a hell of a warmup act. I’m actually mildly impressed that the crowd was still able to give it up for Cut Copy after the synth-and-drums outfit pulled out all the stops with an hour-plus set of herky-jerky, gleefully surly euphoric rowdiness. I suppose it didn’t hurt that there was a dude in matching balaclava and avocado-smuggler’s body stocking flailing around in the crowd and eventually on stage. I suppose the Presets just do that kind of thing to people.