Cult With No Name

Luna Lounge, London - 19 July 2011

"A performance and an evening of near-perfection"

As the saying goes: it never ceases to amaze me… in this instance that only a small crowd braved the rain to find a gem of an underground club spot named the Luna Lounge in Leytonstone. It’s in north east London – and this my first trip out there. On the strength of this evening I’d be more than happy to jaunt over there again whenever quality acts like Cult With No Name choose to perform there. Tonight’s gig was part of the annual Leytonstone Festival. CWNN (both members of which are both sort-of locals) have performed in the festival for the past two years. Last year it was to perform their score to a screening of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – in a community centre, where there was no alcohol, meaning that the audience had to sate themselves with tea and biscuits!

No such libation restrictions this evening at the Luna Lounge, a regular haunt for jazz evenings with a quality sound system (surround no-less), as Erik Stein and Jon Boux took to the stage to perform two half hour sets selecting highlights from their first four albums (my, how quickly time passes). The intimate setting suited the equally intimate crowd, and Cult With No Name are the ideal band to perform in such environs. Moreover, the ‘lounge’ of the venue name was no mere marketing ploy, this was a proper lounge - with leather Chesterfield sofas and plush armchairs. It doesn’t get much more civilised than this. With band and audience in such close proximity to each other, it demands something special from those on stage and Cult With No Name delivered on that pretty much flawlessly.

The first half of the evening drew on each of their four albums to date, and introduced us to new material presumably due to appear on their next release. One was instantly struck with the quality of the sound. Boasting a richness and depth (but not for the sake of clarity) this was mightily impressive, putting most other venues (whatever their size) firmly in the shade. The jazz pedigree probably accounts for such attention to detail and we all got the benefit. There is even a surround sound aspect to the system meaning that occasionally certain sounds from the backing track could be heard over your shoulder behind you. Not in a gimmicky way either – just once or twice was it distinctly noticeable.

Stein introduced the first new song of the evening Hope Is Existence saying every band got to have a potential Bond film theme; and this is certainly Cult With No Name’s runner. Not exactly John Barry at his bombastic opening credits best, more a closing credits theme or a key incidental song. Few bands manage to navigate across the ebb and flow of currents between song and soundtrack as expertly as CWNN can, and Hope Is Existence is a fine example of achieving this. Perhaps because I’m least familiar with them, the songs selected from their first, 2007 album Paper Wraps Rock firmly reminded me to pull that out for a review. One of these Blame It On Oil (about the power of the media) – quite timely at the time of writing with the News International/News Corp stuff hitting the fan.

Stein tends to introduce most if not every song in their live sets and normally I’m not too keen on that but the approach works two-fold here. Firstly, because CWNN’s style naturally lends itself to such a high level of interaction. Secondly, because to do anything else in such close quarters would likely come across as pretentious. Moreover, Stein’s informative intros give the audience an insight into the writing behind the tracks – particularly Stein’s lyrics. I’m not usually one too bothered about lyrics, but when it comes to ballads they are an essential ingredient and any further clarity or insight is definitely welcome.

With work well underway on their fifth album, and a tour of California confirmed for early 2012, now is the time to get up to speed on Cult With No Name, before they get too big that playing venues as delightfully intimate as the Luna Lounge becomes impossible. This was a performance and an evening of near-perfection; unquestionably then gig of the year so far. 9/10

Setlist: (Set 1:) Girl, Under The Dirt, Hope Is Existence, In Every Way But One, Down The Line, Context Is Everything, Everyone's The Butt of The Joke (Set 2:) Flying Ant Day, Operation Failed, Lies-all-lies-all-lies, Blame It On Oil, Adrenalin, Golden Brown, Generation That's (Encore:) Business Is Good

Rob Dyer