The Luna Lounge in Leytonstone won the dsoaudio Best Venue award last year, so it was a pleasure to find ourselves back here for a second time. The draw was the same as last summer: Cult With No Name. Up until now referred to as a two-piece. However, if one takes a look at their fifth album, this description is no longer as straightforward as it has been before.
Tonight was billed as album launch event for Above As Below which sees the duo really begin to push at the edges of their familiar sound and securing contributions from an impressive set of collaborators, including Kelli Aly of Sneaker Pimps fame, John Ellis, guitarist of The Vibrators who has worked with The Stranglers and Peter Gabriel, and also Bruce Gedudig and Luc van Lieshout of Tuxedomoon.
It would have been a real treat if one or more of them had been on duty tonight to help introduce the new material. But although Ellis was in attendance he didn’t perform, meaning we had to experience the fuller, broader sound that they bring to the party in backing form only – which was a shame. Moreover, for an album launch the quantity of tracks from Above As Below was about as slim as they could get away with and still justify the billing. Just four of the sixteen song set were new; which was a bit unexpected when the new material is so anticipated. Perhaps it was a canny marketing ploy designed to shift a few copies of the album on the night – which (unsurprisingly) they did.
As when they played here last July, the evening was split into two sets (followed by an encore). The approach ideal for the venue - an intimate, underground lounge perfectly suited to the band functioning as a two-piece. They’re like the archetypal double act. Jonny Boux is the straight man. Although he could almost pass himself off as an amateur pugilist, he’s the quiet one. He sits modestly at his keyboard. Rarely says much, preferring his dexterous finger work to do the communicating for him. Then there’s lead vocalist Erik Stein. A tall, slim figure - he comes across like a slightly skittish thoroughbred. His distinctive looks faintly echoing John Foxx’s more mature acute angles. Stein’s stone dry, occasionally rambling wit, often hilariously wry observations and wordplay are simultaneously intellectual and unpretentious. It doesn’t really matter if he’s singing or speaking - he’s a delight to listen to either way. (I wonder he moonlights as a poetic stand up...?)
This evening’s set drew extensively and broadly across their earlier work, including songs from each of the four previous albums including two tracks (Under The Dirt and an extract from There is Something Frightful In Our Midst which they used for the set intro) included in their 2009 score for the silent film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. From the new album they started with Hope Is Existence. The others getting their live debut were Everyone’s the Butt of the Joke, Raise A Glass (written on New Year’s Day last year apparently), and the pun-tastic Idi’s Admin. Shame there wasn’t more to be heard from the new album, as on the strength of this limited sampling there’s a marked development in the style, firmly setting Above as Below apart from its predecessors. This evening’s rendition of their minimalist cover of The Stranglers’ Golden Brown was the finest I’ve heard them perform.
Hitherto, the two-piece approach to performing live has been entirely in keeping with their sound. However, if they continue painting bigger canvasses with the broader palette they’ve managed to construct for the new album, it would almost be a disservice to the material if they couldn’t realise a bigger live setup and presentation. Perhaps when they get back from their tour of California next month, the wider world will finally wake up to Cult With No Name’s special talents and they’ll be able to bankroll a fuller live sound. I’d like to think so. 8/10
(Set 1:) There is Something Frightful In Our Midst (excerpt), Hope Is Existence (NEW), Down The Line, Blame It On Oil, Golden Brown, Under the Dirt, Everyone’s the Butt of the Joke (NEW), Lies-All-Lies-All-Lies
(Set 2:) Context Is Everything, Flying Ant Day, Raise A Glass (NEW), Operation Failed, Generation That’s, In Every Way But One, Idi’s Admin (NEW) (Encore:) And Those Same Mistakes
Live footage on dsoaudio's YouTube Channel