Disco, and its eminent beat, has that distinct capability of sending masses of tired people into a sugary euphoria, dancing the night away in rhythmic ecstasy. Whether it’s cerebral music or not becomes entirely arbitrary when a 2,500 capacity crowd, on a Sunday night no less, is shaking the building’s foundation—an eventuality that repeated itself over and over with Cut Copy at the helm.
Opening with “Visions”—which serves more as interlude than song on the group’s lauded sophomore album In Ghost Colours—was an effective move, enabling the group to slowly fade in while also keeping the audience’s anticipation at a maximum level. Atmospheric undulating chords soon gave way to a lingering Michael Jackson beat and sixteenth-note guitar line (not unlike the guitar on Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.”) and “Nobody Lost, Nobody Found” was quickly ushered in and moving the crowd. A crowd that was prepared to dance in front of speakers, on top of them, and even in the last rows of Webster Hall’s horizon, namely the rear bar.
The song was also a prime example of how Cut Copy’s music translates into a captivating live show. It’s neither indie nor rock nor electronica nor pop, but all of those things. So, pulsating bass and disco-era beats complimented the live energy of a Strokes-like guitar part, all of which was undermined by ‘80s synths and production. In a similar vein, “Lights and Music” blended all these elements into a seamless dance frenzy. With accompanying fluorescent-light picket fences and their myriad moving colors adorning the stage, the disco meets rock aesthetic seemed complete.
In comparison, “Out There on the Ice” radiated with a heavier electronic aura. The parallels between singer and frontman Dan Whitford’s intonations on the lyrics “tear us apart” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” were also inescapable.
In its live element In Ghost Colours superseded its already superb recorded sound, which was shaped and co-produced by dance music god and DFA records co-founder Tim Goldsworthy. The difference being that the live dose of bass permeated one’s being, cementing the music in a tangible form, whereas on the album it leans towards more typical levels. Also, live instrumentation adds textural layers—gritty or strident guitar, sizzling cymbals, and a rounder deeper bass—that make a live performance seem live, musically speaking. In some cases (“So Haunted”) the No Age-esque guitars would have fallen entirely flat if not performed by a real instrument.
Cut Copy also emphasized dynamics—the bedrock of any effective live playing—with dramatic effects. Entrances were either more demure, building into something cataclysmic, or a countdown, generating mass-hysteria as a particular juncture in the song neared. Whitford cites Australians’ pervasive taste for live dance music as a cause for their comprehensive on-stage sound. “Part of the scene in Australia is that there are really strong live shows and those live shows are almost as important as what happens on the record,” he has said.
Whitford once described his preference for writing and recording in their native Australia as a decision to eschew “too many distractions.” “Places like New York and London you get bombarded by the ‘newest’ and ‘latest’,” he says. That ideology is clearly reflected on In Ghost Colours, its retrograde sound a nod towards Italo-disco, new wave, and house music. Yet, predictably, their nuanced concoction has also become a trend-setting musical hit in those very same hipster capitals that they have chosen to eschew.
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, some of Cut Copy’s sound does get an ostensibly formulaic live treatment. They would emphasize a treble-heavy chorus with the bass and drums mostly dropping out, allowing Whitford the space to sing the chorus a number of times over some grandiose synthesizer holds while the lower end gently grew and the songs were at their most vindicable. Then, jumping up and down, they would melodramatically reintroduce the beat and bass to rampant, but expectant, cheers.
And it’s awesome every time. One knew exactly when it was coming but the product was still infectious, an enticing exclamation to the song’s already aching disco.
As their encore, “Hearts on Fire” was almost histrionic in its exercise of the above effects. But such unbridled energy—especially when aggregated by the thousands—yields unbridled dancing and enthusiasm that carries on well past one’s nightcap.