with Spectrals, Mrs. Magician
The Plaza Live Theatre, Orlando, FL • March 9, 2012
Like any tourist new to our state, just about every band that comes through Orlando not only goes to Disney World, but finds a way to mention it during their set. At least two of the three bands on the bill for the Friday night Plaza Live Theatre showcase for the Orange You Glad Music Festival did. The headliners, Cults, went so far as to dedicate their set to a fan who “got us all into Disney yesterday.”
As wonderful as the “most magical place on Earth” is, what Festival organizers Tierney Tough and Chris Anderson are trying to do with this event is to get the word spread that Orlando has a hell of a lot more to offer than just theme parks. The four-day festival takes place in a different musical hotspot each night – to expose goers to the wide array of cars, clubs, theaters, cafes, and record stores that make up our town’s ever-expanding scene – and features over 60 bands, both national and local. Event headliners Cults were joined by Spectrals and Mrs. Magician for Friday’s “Milk District” locale, and the movie theater-turned-live-music-venue was busier than a midnight opening of a crappy teen vampire movie… ok, not really, but it was quite crowded!
Things began with more of a fizz than a bang, with Mrs. Magician igniting no spark – nor was there a “Mrs.” to be found. I call false advertising on the part of a band that sounded like the runner-up at a high school Battle of the Bands. There was nothing horribly wrong about these guys, but there was nothing to keep you from venturing out to the lobby for a beer and a pretzel, either.
Spectrals, the moniker of singer/songwriter Louis Jones, was a different sort of disappointment. On record, he coolly evokes Echo & the Bunnymen on a sunny day and has got a jangly grip on his guitar parts Ã la Johnny Marr. Bad Penny, Jones’ sweet and poppy lo-fi debut, plays a bit like Surfer Blood sung with cleaner vocals. In short, it’s pretty damn good. In person, however, Jones sounded more like Randy Newman (maybe he spent too much time at Disney). Even “Confetti,” the album’s hip-shaker, didn’t quite soar. The band that backed up Jones was making their debut as part of Spectrals, so maybe they just haven’t hit their stride – making pretty music, but not making it sound pretty DAMN vibrant! It’s a subtle art – to translate quiet acoustic pop songs on the stage, while your audience is drinking away the work week – and not one that Spectrals has yet mastered. As Cults soon demonstrated, though, there’s hope.
Madeline Follin, Cults’ adorable little pixie of a singer, has a voice so sweet it could sugar your coffee. Her vocals, and the band’s melodies, are ripped through time from the girl group era – a time period I will never get tired of musicians rehashing! Their 2011 self-titled debut curled up inside of my frequent playlist immediately, and has remained there ever since, yet I wasn’t convinced that I just had to head out to this show because of their less than stellar performance opening up for Foster the People back in the fall. They sounded wonderful, and Follin’s voice was a revelation that stunned the room, but they looked a little bit lost on that big House of Blues stage. Give ‘em some time to stretch their stage legs, I thought.
As it turns out, six months was all the time they needed. The Cults I saw on this Spring night was a band bold enough to bring down the lights to showcase their secret weapon inside of a white hot spotlight and, bolder still, to put up behind them a backdrop of seemingly random film clips. This, along with the – once more – perfection of sound, would have been enough to graduate the group into the realm of worthy live act, but they took it one step further and set up a live video camera inches from Follin that projected atop of the screen images behind her. It was sexy, eerie, artsy, and weird all at the same time – like any performance worth seeing.
With just the one album to run through, the setlist was as expected – which is fine, because there is NOT ONE SONG on that record that I would have liked omitted. “Go Outside” and “Oh My God” were sparkling sequins in the dark room. “Most Wanted,” even though guitarist Brian Oblivion’s backing vocals were buried in the mix, sounded as sweet as The Supremes. The crowning jewel that inspires romantic swaying and kisses stolen in corners, “You Know What I Mean,” froze a moment in time that I have since tucked away into my memory as the avatar to forever represent Cults as a band. This night’s performance has assured no hesitation on my part for future Cults gigs in my neighborhood!
Gallery of live shots from this show: Cults.