September 8, 2022
Photos by Tyler King
For part of The Chapel’s 10-Year Anniversary Shows, two nights of Cold Cave headlining were announced. The second night, September 9th, was almost sold out, but I attended the September 8th show. The first time I saw the band was also at The Chapel in 2019, and it felt refreshing to see the band where I had first witnessed the darkwave and post-punk-inspired project founded by Wes Eisold.
Taking the stage amid a flurry of smoke, Wes, partner Amy Lee, and the rest of the live band took to the stage before opening the set with “My Heart Is Immortal,” the closing song from the 2018 EP You & Me & Infinity. It was a truly mood-setting piece to open the set with: a constant drum rhythm, synth stabs, a droning buzz underneath it all, and Wes’s deadpan spoken word tying it all together. “Transcend everything / This town / This horrid town,” are lyrics that can speak to just about everyone and their desires, but paired with the instrumentation and delivery of the words, it felt like a mission statement.
While I’ve enjoyed the albums, singles, and EPs that Cold Cave has put out, I feel that the band is at their most potent in a live setting. Standing behind an armada of four Korg MS2000bs, the band was both intimidating and somewhat distanced from the crowd, the synthesizers creating a sort of make-shift barricade. This was broken by the third song of the set, “Glory,” as two of the members had switched over from playing the synths to playing their guitars, Amy picking up a bass for the next song, “People Are Poison.”
Comparisons of Wes to Andrew Eldritch, frontman and mastermind of The Sisters Of Mercy, are sure to be made at one point or another: both are imposing figures that don dark sunglasses during live performances and are seen as the figureheads of their given musical projects. Where they differ is that Wes has more of a vulnerability in his lyrics than I think Eldritch ever did. The Sisters Of Mercy are great, but they’re what I would call “arena goth.” Big music for big venues. Cold Cave, on the other hand, has always felt more sincere and intimate to me in the lyrics and delivery of the music.
Each song had its own backing projection, “A Little Death To Laugh” seeing the band perform under the visage of bats flying in a yellow sky. Towards the middle of the set, the backing projections of the song “Underworld USA” began acting up, causing Wes and a couple members of the band to walk offstage to try to figure out what the problem was. Returning to the stage, the other two members had cut the backing projections. Thusly, the rest of the set was performed without any sort of visual accompaniment, Wes crouching at one point and saying, “Music good. Projections bad.”
The selection of the setlist was another highlight of the evening: fans of any era of the band’s output was going to see a song or two that they enjoyed. Stretching all the way to their first album, 2009’s Love Comes Close, to their most recent album, last year’s Fate In Seven Lessons, the selection flowed in a way that felt natural, even if the songs had been recorded over a decade apart from each other in some cases. The main set came to a close with my personal favorite of the band’s, “Promised Land,” the opening piano melody eliciting a cheer from the entire audience, Wes coming out from between the front two Korgs to sing directly at the audience. It was the highlight of the evening for me.
The band left the stage. It appeared the show was over. I went out into the main lobby to buy a record, only to be told they were coming back out for an encore. I rushed back in to be greeted by the band performing the live debut of their recent cover of Psychic TV’s “Godstar.” Given the closeness between Wes and Psychic TV’s co-founder Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, it felt like a truly sincere and triumphant moment of the evening. Following that was the show closer “Icons Of Summer,” its distorted instrumentation reaching a dizzying high, Wes’s cries of “I can’t keep falling, I can’t keep falling” hitting home like a punch in the gut. It was a truly spectacular way of closing the show, and I can’t wait to see Cold Cave again.
I had seen the opening act Riki once before, at the much smaller Rickshaw Stop in April. I remember coming away from that show not enjoying her live performance, perplexed about what all of the fuss was about. I’m here to tell you that there must have been something wrong with me that day. Embracing 1980s melodramatic synth pop, Riki’s set was fantastic. The majority of her set came from her self-titled debut, and if I had one complaint about her set, it’s that I would have loved to have seen more from last year’s Gold. Halfway through the set she covered Jeanette’s classic “Porque te vas” in arguably the highlight of the set. It was either that or the impressive melodica-playing during the song “Napoleon.” Just go see Riki whenever you have the chance.