Nov. 02--The Whit Stillman film "The Last Days of Disco" comes to a close with a message presumably intended for a time capsule: "Disco was too great and too much fun to be gone forever," Josh, a true believer, says in the harsh daytime sun of the fictionalized early '80s. "It's got to come back someday. I just hope it will be in our own lifetimes." His wish, committed to celluloid in 1998, anticipated the music of the decade or so to come, from the underground-aimed dance-punk of the Rapture and LCD Soundsystem to the massive rise of rave culture led by DJs from Daft Punk to Skrillex.
Yet no modern band understands the pure pleasure of dance music better than Australian quartet Cut Copy. "Band" is an important term: DJs and producers have built a multi-million dollar industry in Las Vegas clubs and mega-fests such as Miami's Ultra, but how many acts can summon that kind of dancefloor enthusiasm with guitars in their hands? The list is short -- and on Friday night at the Roseland Theater, No. 1 became inarguable.
The four-piece opened their set with "Free Your Mind," the title track of their Tuesday-due fourth album, and their hour-and-a-half set could've lasted twice as long before reality set in. Cut Copy absorbs influences like drugs through an invincible liver, leaving only the high. The force of house, the bounce of disco, the melodic heights of New Wave -- particularly New Order -- and the textures of post-punk and psychedelic rock fused to staggering effect on songs such as new single "We Are Explorers" and "Hearts on Fire," a track whose chorus the packed house almost drowned the band out on. The group barely bothered with the wordless vocal hooks often scattered across their instrumental breaks: the audience filled in almost every one, unbidden.
Not that the group offered no encouragement. Singer Dan Whitford, generally unencumbered by a guitar, raised his hands in inviting gesticulations like a cult leader or a Bar Mitzvah emcee as the music pulsed around him. If Daft Punk are didactic, commanding their listeners to "Lose Yourself to Dance," Cut Copy want to connect: the best song on "Free Your Mind" is called "Meet Me in a House of Love," and they opened the encore with it like a mission statement. There was no tortured-artist hit-withholding on Friday, no forced run through unfamiliar material or unwanted deep cuts. They played only a handful from "Free Your Mind," an excellent record but one both unreleased and less potent than "In Ghost Colours," the 2008 album that anchored the set. That album's song choices moved through feelings of melancholy ("Strangers in the Wind"), danger ("So Haunted") and unleashed passion ("Hearts on Fire"), each chorus exploding like a heavyweight champ delivering the knock-out punch, any restraint left lost to sweat and adrenaline. At its best, Cut Copy's music tethers rhythmic focus to constant escalation, its layers somehow always capable of becoming bigger, bolder, brighter.
Unlike the music's intricacies, the band's stage set-up wasn't complicated: just a bank of strobes and spotlights, blasted in a range of colors through a fog machine's mist, but it was enough to give the music a visual kick. Whitford's surfer-dude bangs blew upward in a perpetual model shot thanks to a well-placed fan, a small and amusing vanity. Songwriting can sometimes be a selfish exercise, whether the motivation is exorcising relationship demons or cashing a check during Saturday bottle service: Cut Copy's performance, from end to end, was the picture of generosity, a band and audience engaged in the mutual pursuit of motion and release. Disco may have been fun once, but in Cut Copy's hands, it borders on transcendence.
-- David Greenwald
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