Austin – Cherub takes the stage skipping, grinning, waving, apparently thrilled to be there. It’s just Jordan Kelley and Jason Huber wielding guitar, bass and talkbox, no drum kit in sight, and you get the impression that you’re watching a couple of best buddies. Except for being perfectly competent musicians, they play like they took it to heart when the little league coach said get out there, have fun, and don’t worry about the score. Leaving aside the adolescent goofiness of song titles like “Disco Shit,” their pop songwriting is masterfully tailored for this atmosphere.
Cherub owes a lot of that atmosphere to the warm-up they got from Mystery Skulls at Stubb’s on a recent night. These songs stand up plenty well on their own, and in interviews the two former music students out of LA seem to know exactly what they’re up to when it comes to writing hooks and arrangements. But their lyrics are less comfortable. The band’s surging reputation comes from “Doses & Mimosas,” received as Summer 2014’s answer to “Fuck You,” but which deprecates past the point of humor when they sing “Doses and mimosas, champagne and cocaine help to get me through.”
When the lyrics are working they come across self-aware. But there are points—such as their frequent, awkward imitation of hip-hop tropes, especially egregious on “Strip to This” and “Freaky Me, Freaky You”—where it seems like they’re narrating things they’ve only heard about from an older sibling. This is something few will be able to hear except in pieces, and even fewer will care about. Certainly that was the reaction of the crowd at Stubb’s. It matters only to the extent that it reveals a band with plenty of aptitude but room to grow.
In fact, “Doses & Mimosas” is probably a good starting point for the band’s future. Cherub haven’t written a bad hook yet, and “Doses & Mimosas” strings together more than one, with a teasing synth pad culminating in a brighter, crisper melody for the chorus that stands out brilliantly even though the vocals are the loudest element in the mix here. The syrupy croon of this middle-finger litany is complemented live with the same enthusiasm the band took the stage with. It belies the seeming bitterness and makes you wonder who’s singing.
“Disco Shit” strikes a more consistent tone, both lyrically and musically. Contrary to expectations the song isn’t especially disco flavored relative to their other material—although in general Cherub’s pop is already heavy on the disco. The “disco shit” of the title refers, a little darkly, to the songs that complete cocaine-fueled dance floor escapism. It seems softer than “Doses & Mimosas,” but that’s an illusion of the softer
chorus and reduced crescendo—the bass is pretty loud throughout.
With “This Song Is For You,” the band explores a different speed—slower, funkier, softer—and the effect is good. At this speed the band’s minimal melodies begin to sound spacey, and though the songs still express a forlorn hedonism, the effect is much more sincere, both for its diction and the less affected vocal delivery. It’s something they do well, and something they should be doing more of.
For all that, this was a phenomenal show. The band’s energy is contagious, and even when the band missteps it doesn’t jar you for long. But as is the band has put a ceiling on the amount of energy they can milk from the crowd—there’s a reluctance to sing along, a moment of self awareness, and a loss of the Saturday night dreamland the band’s music is so good at conjuring.
If the above leaned on the negative, it’s because the positive is more than obvious from the music. This show gets an unqualified yes.
Cherub has a slim tour schedule for the rest of the summer, but there are chances to see them in cities around the U.S..
Photos of Cherub live by Will Jukes