Generally, I'm pleading with friends to accompany me to obscure indie shows that no one's ever heard of before, but in the case of Cults, I'd never had so many people call in their favors to get into the show.
Naturally, it was sold out. This time last year, Soda Bar would have been a good fit for what was then the up-and-coming band the Cults, but now the band is in high demand with the release of their self-titled LP on Columbia Records, and San Diego was eager to see them as a proper headlining act. The New York-based duo is made up of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, rounded out by a full band -- the only requirement for membership appears to be a head of long dark hair, preferably the kind that grazes over faces and obstructs vision.
The band walked on the blue-lit stage on July 29 as Follin announced "We're Cults!" in her most enthusiastic shrill. Like she had to tippie-toe up to the mike to scream it out as if it wasn't clear that they were, in fact, the reason why people rushed up to dance shoulder-to-shoulder, surrounding the front. Either the band is unaware of the magnitude of hype surrounding them or its members would rather not think about it. Regardless, the scene was set for a San Diego homecoming of sorts. The band was actually from San Diego before a stint studying film in New York; as Oblivion mentioned, "I was going to say something stupid about burritos, but I don't think that's necessary."
What is necessary to note is that this band is only a year old. Their wildly popular aesthetic is not new, however -- it's the same '50s revivalist pop that catapulted the likes of Best Coast, Camera Obscura and Dum Dum Girls into mainstream popularity. It's the twinkling nostalgia of lullaby melodies and the kind of melancholy pop that sounds like Follin spent weeknights in curlers and face masks, writing songs about boys next door. It's that innocence that makes songs like "You Know What I Mean" remind you of an era you can only truly understand in "cult classics" like Sixteen Candles or Footloose.
The band played nearly all the songs off their LP because, well, that's all they have. With only a handful of tracks, many of them clocking in at around three minutes or less, what they lacked in depth, they made up for in energy. With accidental summer anthems like "Go Outside" or "Oh My God," they performed to the backing of crowd claps and cheers. What sets them apart from other emerging San Diego garage-rock bands is the fact that their sound is impeccably sharp. They might sing in distorted echoesm but their percussion is clean, a mark of a true grown-up pop band.
They ended the night with Follins shouting, "Thanks!" in her a high pitched squeal. It'll be exciting to watch this band grow beyond the safety of the vanilla pop sound, although that genre has been treating them favorably so far. Maybe they'll take cues from their opening support: Guards and Writer, two bands that have taken nostalgia out of it's comfort zone and created something entirely their own. Something tells me San Diego's Writer is on the rise.
Nada Alic runs the San Diego-based music blog Friends With Both Arms and works in artist relations for the nonprofit organization Invisible Children. Follow her updates on Twitter or contact her directly.