Concert Review: CULTS—Do We Want to Join?

If you are going to name your band “Cults”, you have a lot to live up to. Billed as a duo, the group are from New York City and are comprised of guitarist, Nord synthesizer player, machine manipulator with a very cult leader name—and a very “Big Brother and the Holding Company” hairstyle—Brian Oblivion, who and sings very rarely (definitely for the better.) The other half, and focal point of the group, is Madeline Follin, who sings most every song and is beautiful in an otherworldly way. Countering her soft and lovely good looks, her singing is at times is so startlingly apart from this world, that she could be standing at a mic on Titan, the giant moon of Saturn.

On their new album, Static—which sounds like a weird combination of 1960s girl group, psychedelic effects, Cocteau Twins-style ethereal melodies, and pure pop tunes—you can hear an example of Follin’s unique vocals on the song “I Can Hardly Make You Mine.” However, at their show this past week at Webster Hall, the galactic force was definitely with us, and those other elements from the album were buried in a muddy sea of psychedelic mush and mud. I really wish they had a better sound man, because what they were playing was both exciting and vital.

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Speaking of Big Brother and the Holding Co.—the seminal ’60’s group that spawned Janis Joplin—I see similarities here with Cults, aside from the hippie look. Not so much in the music, but in its execution. Mr. Oblivion (isn’t it great to say Mr. Oblivion?) may be half the group, but if they start to make it, there will pressure on Ms. Follin to take her unique vocal chords and go solo—that would be a mistake, and not only for the fact that he has the long and side-parted hair of Sam Andrew (and Peter Albin), but he also sings like Andrew. That’s where the similarity to Big Brother lies; the effect of his indistinctive drone giving way to her interplanetary blast is astonishing. It made Big Brother unique when Andrew gave way to Joplin, and it does that for Cults as well.

However, this really does not come through on the album. They are a much different as a live act than a recording act—as was Big Brother. The interplay of Follin and Oblivion, plus the ultra cool light show on hanging multi-sized TVs, drove the sold out hometown crowd nuts. In concert, Cults is five piece psychedelic 60’s rock band. The lead guitar player also plays a synthesizer and a glockenspiel—which looks like a small xylophone. The drummer was great, spot on, and solid in every song. Most unique was the bass player, who was playing what looked to me like a Gibson Grabber bass, which, unlike the deep, low sounding Fenders that most bass players use, produces a very trebly sound. Think Jack Bruce in the Cream.

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I bring this up because it really gave Cults a distinctive sound at the show, really cutting through the hazy mud. The bass was great. I wish more groups would use that—at least on some songs to mix it up. And to complete the 60’s feel, one of the songs they did had a riff that reminded me of the song by Scott McKenzie, “If you’re going to San Francisco [be sure to wear some flowers in your hair].” Maybe that’s where the idea for Cults name came from. The ‘60’s were a time of cults. In fact, one of their videos has a clip of Jim Jones, the cult leader who killed almost his entire flock with poison Kool-aid in Guyana.

I don’t think this Cults wants to kill us with anything but lovely pop infused outer space music—so, are Cults a cult?  Do they want to be a cult? Only until they wake up, like all of us dreamers. In the meantime, just the music will be worth following.

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How to Play a Rock Star in a Movie

The casting of the upcoming CBGB’a movie has been a drawn-out process scored by endless commentary from fans who think they know better than filmmakers. Even the classic bar’s regulars got in the game. Not too long ago, Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys told us, “Hell, get Johnny Depp to play me!” Now it’s been announced that there is a new round of cast members, including former Roseanne star (and current The Big Bang Theory player) Johnny Galecki as manager Terry Ork and actress Mickey Sumner as Patti Smith. Perhaps the most controversial casting, though, is Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who, The Hollywood Reporter found out, will be playing Iggy Pop. 

The musician has plenty of experience behind the camera, having composed music for video games, TV, and movies, and he’s also appeared in plenty of rockumentaries in his capacity as a band member. But can he actually play the role of a musician?

He can start by checking out these clips below, showcasing what we consider fine examples of actors playing rockers.

The Velvet Goldmine 

With Jonathan Rys Meyers as Brian Slade and Ewan McGregor as Curt Wild—clearly Pop influenced—this should be Hawkins’ go-to movie for Iggy inspiration.

 

La Bamba

Lou Diamond Phillips played Ritchie Valens in this 1987 movie about the rocker who died at 18 in a plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper.

 

The Rose

Bette Midler made her screen debut in this movie, based loosely on the life of Janis Joplin. Pop never had Janice’s pipes, so singing like this won’t be a worry for Hawkins, but still a good role to study.

 

Sid and Nancy

For a taste of 1970s rock, what’s better than the Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb in this 1986 classic?

 

The Doors

To capture some of pop’s slithering sex appeal, checking out Val Kilmer’s performance in Oliver Stone’s The Doors would be a smart idea. Kilmer’s magnetic, insane, and overwhelmingly alluring Jim Morrison raised the bar for playing rockers.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

The 1982 punk cult classic featuring a young Diane Lane and Laura Dern is required viewing for anyone who should be allowed to be punk, let alone play one on the screen. Absolutely essential viewing.

Andre 3000, Jimi Hendrix And The Fates of Other ’60s Musical Biopics

Get out your Strats and strike up some matches: OutKast frontman and actor Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000) has reportedly been cast as legendary rocker Jimi Hendrix in All Is By My Side, a biopic centering on Hendrix’s time in England in the late 1960s. According to the Irish Film and Television Network, the film will begin shooting in Dublin and Wicklow, Ireland, next month.

Andre 3000 certainly has the energy, musical talent and creative spark to make for a convincing Hendrix. But it got us thinking about other ’60s rock icon biopics, both those that were (and were highly successful) and those that never quite came to fruition.

Jim Morrison: The first of the Forever 27 Club to get the biopic treatment was Jim Morrison, when Val Kilmer portrayed the madcap Lizard King in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991). The resemblance, truly, was uncanny.

Janis Joplin: Much like Jenna Maroney’s ill-fated turn as Janis Joplin… er, Jackie Jormp-Jomp, on 30 Rock, a Janis Joplin biopic has gone through multiple incarnations throughout the past decade or so, beginning in 2004 with The Gospel According To Janis, which starred P!nk as the blues-rock legend, with Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World, The Decline of Western Civilization) to direct. With a knowledgeable musical mind like Spheeris (who also co-wrote the script) at the helm and P!nk, who can actually do a pretty good Janis (roll clip), this would have actually probably been pretty great. Another film, Piece of My Heart, was also announced for that year and said to be starring Renée Zellweger. A later version of Gospel was set to star Zooey Deschanel, and the film still has a (very secretive) IMDb page. Additionally, in 2010, Fernando Meirelles announced a Janis biopic to star Amy Adams. So many Janises, so little screen time.

Johnny Cash: Like the much-loved Ray the year before, Walk The Line (2005) was generally praised by critics and audiences and earned star Joaquin Phoenix a Golden Globe, as well as an Oscar for Reese Witherspoon for her portrayal of June Carter Cash. And truly, if you close your eyes, dude does sound a whole lot like the Man in Black.

Bob Dylan: Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There was one of the most ambitious biopics of all time, telling the narrative and attempting to capture the character of Dylan using six different actors. Among the most notable performances in the film were Heath Ledger going rather meta (playing a famous musician in a biopic in a biopic about a famous musician… whoa) and a stunning interpretation from Cate Blanchett.

Jerry Garcia: For about a year, a biopic of the late Grateful Dead frontman looked like a thing that was actually going to happen. Acclaimed documentarian Ami Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story) was attached to the project, based on Robert Greenfield’s oral history, Dark Star. Fans threw around the usual suspects in terms of actor suggestions, most notably Jeff Bridges, natch. The film hit a snag in August 2010, however, when it was announced the filmmakers would not have the rights to any of Garcia’s music. Talk about harshing your mellow.

The Supremes: Although there’s not exactly a straight-up Supremes biopic, there have now been at least two films loosely based on The Supremes’ career: Dreamgirls (based on the musical of the same name) and the Curtis Mayfield-soundtracked Sparkle, which gets a remake this year starring American Idol alum Jordin Sparks and the late Whitney Houston. Although neither film is taken to be a precise representation of the group’s career, the Motown-inspired setting and soundtrack are ever-present.

Plus, any excuse to watch Jennifer Holliday straight-up belt "And I’m Telling You (I’m Not Going)" is a good one: 

Neil Young: This one isn’t actually happening, at least to our knowledge, although should there ever be one, fans are full of suggestions of who would play the Canadian songwriter, including Rainn Wilson and Billy Bob Thornton. One name that would most certainly be in biopic contention, however, would have to be Jimmy Fallon, who has been performing the likes of "Pants on the Ground" and "I’m Sexy and I Know It" in Young’s signature distinctive waver.