Cut Copy Live Review: June 25th at Newport Music Hall

Seeing artists that I first discovered and fell in love with when I was younger is always a nervous experience.  Particularly when the music I like from these groups is older. A few years back, I saw The Killers on their Battle Born tour, and it was probably the worst show I’ve ever been to.  The magic gone, with only memories of what they used to be, it ruined what such a once meaningful group meant to me. Admittedly, I was quite anxious that this would happen with Cut Copy as well.  It’s been a while since they’ve released an album that I truly enjoyed, and I was at the least a bit apprehensive that they wouldn’t meet my expectations. However, while Cut Copy may have released a few less than outstanding albums in the past few years, their live show is a whole different story. Though I was anxious about the experience, it only took the first minute of the first song for me to realize that Cut Copy is absolutely on top of their game when it comes to a live show.  But before we talk about Cut Copy, a quick diversion to talk about the opener: Sinkane.

On my favorite rap song of all time, Kendrick Lamar and his backup singers demand that they want the funk. They might not know it, but the answer to their calls is Sinkane.  The opening act for Cut Copy, Sinkane is the musical project of Sudanese-American artist Ahmed Gallab. I first saw Ahmed Gallab as the band leader of Atomic Bomb!, the cover band of William Onyeabor, a mysterious 70’s Nigerian funk musician, back when the group was touring in 2015.  Onyeabor and the world of African music are clearly influences on Gallab and his band, who are known for blending funk, jazz, soul, and techno influences into one cohesive and infectious sound. Though they were in the opening slot tonight, and not many people turned up to see them, Sinkane is a superb group in their own right that has a supreme control and mastery over their sound; their ability to sit on top of a groove and go is instantly noticeable. Built off the efforts of an excellent drummer, the keyboardist and three guitars were locked in; able to run with the jazz, soul or whatever influences the group may be channeling in a given song. Ahmed Gallab, a one-time Columbus resident, seemed particularly keyed in to the moment. Playing guitar and contributing vocals at times, Gallab stood out amongst what was an altogether superb effort from the group.  Though I only got to the venue in time to catch the last few songs of the set, I was glad I did. Whether they’re opening for Cut Copy or playing a show on their own, seeing Sinkane is an experience I highly recommend.

Any live performance is a unique experience, and as such, set and setting are of prime importance. Newport Music Hall, the longest continually running rock club in the country and certainly one with the most character of any venue in Columbus, is the perfect setting.  Just as important though, is the crowd. Of all of the shows I’ve been to at the Newport, I’ve never seen such a small crowd at a show. At best the venue was half full. Maybe it’s because Cut Copy are a band who reached their peak years ago, maybe with most of the college crowd gone for the summer, but Columbus did not turn out for this show.  And without a doubt, it was at the loss of everyone not there, and the gain of everyone who was. To be just a few rows back from the stage and have enough room to move and dance around is any concert-goer’s dream, and that combined with the level of Cut Copy’s energy and performance turned the show into a veritable dance party.

Just as a good writer can make words come off of the page, good musicians can make their songs come to life, adding new pieces and energy in a live setting.  Cut Copy is a prime example of this. Listening to Cut Copy’s albums is fun—their brand of indie- and synth- pop is entertaining and upbeat, but at a live show, it’s a totally different experience—the band’s energy and passion elevates their art, inviting the whole crowd to be a part of something communal.  Toward the end of the show, I had the pleasure of meeting the one person who was, without a doubt, the one person most excited to be at the show. I didn’t catch his name, but he did manage to tell me that he was on some “transcendental shit.” I cannot attest to the transcendental nature of this show, but I certainly cannot fault him.

While most shows have their ebbs and flows throughout the set, Cut Copy organized their setlist in a way that managed to steadily build throughout.  This might partially an objective observation, due to my preference for Cut Copy’s older material, because most of the new songs they played fell toward the front of the setlist.  As the show progressed, the band reached deeper into their catalog, bringing out the synth-y hits that built their image. The energy built throughout the show, and by the time Cut Copy reached the end of their set, there wasn’t a person in the building who wasn’t dancing.  When they finally played their biggest hit, Lights & Music, it was a moment of catharsis for everyone involved. For some, watching a group of guys standing in front of synths and keyboards might not be entertaining, but some of the most influential moments in my life have come in such a setting.  This Cut Copy show might not have been the best show I’ve ever been to, but it was certainly one of the most fun. Dan Whitford, the vocalist, is a natural entertainer and this show was enthralling from start to finish. See Cut Copy whenever you can.