My companion's flowery dress was almost comically out of place amid all the black at the Larimer last night, as local and national representatives of the darkwave revival took the stage for some synth-heavy brooding. It'd be hard to think of a Denver band better suited to opening for Cold Cave than Force Publique, the up-and-coming duo of Cassie McNeil and James Wayne, whose music mines similar territory, though the archness and drive of the band's sound is more Ladytron than Depeche Mode.
It's well-trod ground, to be sure, and the songs the band played all stuck to the template laid down by debut "Still Falls Apart" -- twitchy bass lines, heavily compressed drum machines, synth freakouts woozy with LFO -- but for a band that just played its first show a few months ago, Force Publique is already remarkably polished, and McNeil's voice, a steely alto that punctuates every phrase with a brief flurry of vibrato, gives the band's sound a distinct stamp. And, hey, the duo played a longer set than the headliners did!
The teasing brevity of the latter set -- just seven songs, over in scarcely more than half an hour -- may have been due to the fact that Cold Cave will spend most of its U.S. tour as an opening act; the band, whose current live incarnation, according to frontman Wesley Eisold, is still a bit green, may have been reluctant to put together a longer set for the couple of shows it will headline. But it certainly would have been nice to see Cold Cave take the opportunity to stretch out a bit, because it was enjoyable enough last night that the rush to get off the stage was a bit of a letdown.
I went to the show last night hoping to be more fully won over by Cold Cave's new material. Debut album Love Comes Close suggested a compelling niche for the band with its blend of noise and chilly new-wave hooks, and while Eisold's transformation of Cold Cave into the second coming of late-'80s Depeche Mode on new album Cherish the Light Years yields some thrilling results, the sometimes-juvenile bombast of the new material makes the band sound less distinct.
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New songs like "Pacing Around the Church" and "Icons of Summer" did fare well last night; Eisold -- who cut quite a figure in his long leather coat and three-inch-heeled boots -- and the rest of the band clearly had fun with them, and you could imagine them being played to a much larger room. But hearing older songs "The Laurels of Erotomania" and "Youth and Lust" given a fresh burst of energy was a reminder of how much more interesting Cold Cave's early material was; here's hoping that the band finds a way, as it moves forward, to synthesize the immediacy and drama of its current work with the distinctiveness of its past work.
Conspicuously -- painfully, perversely -- absent last night were the two songs that stand head and shoulders above the rest of Cold Cave's repertoire: "Love Comes Close," as perfect a melancholy synth-pop song as has appeared in the last thirty years, and "The Great Pan Is Dead," the lead single and statement of purpose from Cherish the Light Years. When the band walked off stage, after B-side "Theme From Tomorrowland," without having played these two songs, many of us stood there in disbelief as the house lights went up, thinking that surely there would be more to come.
Omitting your two best and most recognizable songs from your set doesn't seem like a very good strategy for either a headliner or an opening act, at least not for a band as relatively new as Cold Cave. Whatever the reason for those omissions, it took a while for the crowd to finally admit that the show was over and clear out; Cold Cave had us briefly in thrall, and might have given us a bit more in exchange for coming out on a Monday night.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I'm a Cold Cave fan, and I was bummed not to hear the songs I really wanted to hear. Random Detail: Cold Cave's touring guitarist looked uncannily like Nick Cave. By the Way: This was Cold Cave's first appearance in Denver.