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Live Review and Photos: Cold Cave and Austra, July 27, 2011, Ukrainian Center – Los Angeles, CA

All Photos by Philip Cosores

The Los Angeles Ukrainian Center is not a venue that has gigs very often. The last one of note (to readers of this site) was Arcade Fire’s secret show back in February. And, after experiencing a show in that strange venue on Wednesday night, it seems both a shame and a relief that there are not more there. A shame because the Los Angeles Ukrainian Center is stunning, almost a shrine to whatever’s going on with in it (on this occasion a lot of loud music). On the other hand it’s a relief because the main hall is cavernous, and not ideal for sound. The further back you move the worse the echo becomes, almost drowning the sound from the band onstage if you go too far. But, I suppose that will just encourage you to get as close as possible, which is certainly what all three bands on Wednesday’s bill would have desired.

Prurient, the musical project of Dominic Fernow, the synthesizer player in Cold Cave’s touring lineup, was the first band on, and they were not very successful at attracting the crowd forward. Fernow started the performance (where he was joined by Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold) by turning his microphone on its head and grinding it along his equipment, creating an unholy noise, which was blasted at critical volume. When the songs started, the obnoxiousness of the noise didn’t decrease by much. The music was based around a powerful beat that seemed set to demolish the building with everyone still in it. Maybe some audience members had the same feeling as me, because I saw plenty making their way towards the back of the venue during the performance, most covering their ears. There were, of course, a hard core of fans down the front who lapped it all up, and to his credit Fernow stayed energetic through the band’s short set, twisting and gyrating his body as he let out taut screams over his music. The musical style isn’t for everyone, but the performance can’t really be knocked.

Second on the bill were Austra. Austra’s music can’t exactly be called light, since their debut album Feel It Break is full of references to occult things, and well, just look at that front cover. However, sandwiched between Prurient and Cold Cave, Austra’s set seemed like a bright beacon of light. Between sets the DJs were laying down a series of dance tracks getting the audience’s heads moving as they waited, and Austra’s performance fed straight off that, getting a large portion of the crowd to move their whole bodies, particularly to the “hits” like “Lose It” and “Beat and The Pulse.” Shrouded in smoke throughout the entire set, it was difficult to see anything going on onstage, but the beats and Katie Stelmanis’ voice radiated out from the front, leaving everyone to inhabit their own world as they listened, rather than even bothering to strain to get a view of the band.

Like Austra, Cold Cave’s set started by feeding off the dance vibe set by the DJs. Cold Cave were determined to keep the mood upbeat. Leader Wesley Eisold started by giving out sunflowers, and then the early placements in the set of danceier numbers like “Icons of Summer” and “Confetti,” played in the dim surroundings, turned the event into a nightclub-type atmosphere. On stage all three members stayed active; particularly Fernow who danced furiously and Cold Cave main-man Wesley Eisold, who dragged his microphone stand around the stage with him as he tried to invigorate the audience as much as possible, even jumping in at opportune moments. The band didn’t say anything between songs, not wanting to ruin the flow or disrupt the charge emanating from everybody in the room.

As the set progressed, the mood gradually changed from that of a dance party, to more of a gathering of compatriots there for a rally of some description, the turning point being “Villains of the Moon.” And, by the set-concluding “The Great Pan Is Dead” the spirit had completely metamorphosed, people were no longer dancing and instead fist-pumping and clambering up on stage to take stage dives back in. The song’s ass-kicking chorus provoked the biggest singalong of the evening, and it saw everybody, most notably Eisold, at their most pumped up.

Cold Cave’s performance was a set of contradictions; their music is dark but live it’s fun, they’re only three people but they make a world of noise, and though their set was fairly short, it was action packed and intensely satisfying. And, more impressively, they took the audience subtly through several shifts in sound and ended the way all good performances should end: at its peak.

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