A lead singer’s voice can easily make or break a live performance from your favorite band. Plenty have been there before: You pay to see an artist you have been obsessed with for years, and when you finally get to see them you realize that the singer can’t sing. You persevere through the auditory pain that comes with hearing hours of off-key belts and eventually leave unsatisfied. Fortunately, I didn’t have to experience that last Wednesday night when indie-pop band, Cults, returned to Madison after five years to perform at High Noon Saloon.
All three acts — the two opening bands and Cults — placed their talented voices at the forefront of their performances, wowing the crowd. Vocals can easily get buried in the sound of the music, but these bands capitalized on their singers’ natural talent. They raised the magnitude of their vocals and led the songs with their voices.
At the beginning of night, opener Hideout began performing for a sparse crowd. More people were congregating at the bar rather than the stage. However, that changed as Hideout finished up the first half of their set. People grew interested and started flocking toward the stage. The lead singer, Gabriel Rodriguez, had a captivating voice that was vulnerable. His husky singing intensified Hideout’s songs filled with grief like “We All Go Down Together.” His voice also paired well with whimsical pop tunes like “Space Girl.”
The bandmates resembled the typical garage band prototype: ungroomed hair, dark denim, and an unbothered attitude. The guys made sure to keep their beers in close reach on stage. Throughout the set, they kept light conversation with the audience. Between one song, Rodriguez challenged crowd members to try to beat their drummer in Mortal Kombat II after the show.
The second act was Cullen Omori. You may recognize Omori as the lead singer of the former band Smith Westerns. The band broke up in late 2014, leading to the birth of Omori’s solo career and the band Whitney (who have quite the following in Madison). Omori performed songs solely from his new solo album, New Misery. Most of the songs were reminiscent of Smith Westerns due to the sad lyrics and synth solos. Omori’s soothing voice complimented his dreamy melodies.
When Omori hit the stage, he instantly gave off an otherworldly aura. His attire was midnight cowboy-esque and his long ombre hair covered his face. Throughout the set, he clumsily tiptoed around the stage, occasionally flipping his hair when he decided it was too much of an inconvenience. Between every other song, Omori made snarky comments (I mean this in the best way possible) and teased the crowd for not thinking his music was “bang your head” worthy. If Hideout were the cool stoners from Colorado, Cullen Omori was the “too cool for school” snob.
After two strong acts, it was finally time for Cults. They came out to a packed venue and boisterous applause. Their set began with a rumbling white noise — an allusion to their previous album Static — while their stage remained unlit. Soon the lights shined and the static was cut by the of sound of their newest album’s title track “Offering.”
They continued their set, playing from their newest album while also playing the fan favorites “Go Outside,” “Always Forever” and “You Know What I Mean.” In the past, some Cults songs suffered from aural blandness, but each song from Offering was distinct. In comparison, their newest songs were more full-bodied and evolved, sonically and lyrically.
Rodriguez joined Cults on stage for their live performance to accompany the band’s lead singer, Madeline Follin. Follin’s youthful voice complemented Cults’ upbeat and catchy retro sounds, and Rodriguez’s soothing, hoarse vocals balanced Follin’s piercing voice.
After an hour full of bright pop beats, Cults was finished and the concert was over. They thanked the crowd for coming and retreated to a back room. That night offered the crowd three stand out artists who could have easily headlined their own tours.