Before a respectfully dirgeful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” Cults guitarist Brian Oblivion remarked that it was only the second time the group was playing the song during its “short but seemingly long life as a band.” With hyperspeed hype cycles and a constant feeding frenzy for new talent, it’s common for bands and listeners to experience rapid-onset fatigue these days. But the not-even-two-year-old New York duo seems to have found a foolproof way to combat this restlessness — with songs that are undeniably catchy and hypnotic.
When Cults first emerged in 2010, it was cloaked in an air of mystery — three songs, two members, one vaguely spooky name, no other details. Less than two years later the mystique has disappeared, but a standout pop band has emerged. During the first of two sold-out shows at the Black Cat on Saturday night, Cults — expanded to a five-piece in a live setting — delivered one nifty earworm after another from its self-titled 2011 debut album. The band’s formula is a carefully considered combination of ’60s girl group shimmy and ’80s new wave bounce with singer Madeline Follin’s voice providing a unifying and defining element. It’s charmingly squeaky and lets her hit high notes in a casual manner.
“I knew right then that I’d been abducted / I knew right then that he would be taking my heart,” were the first words she sang on opener “Abducted,” setting the template for lyrics that convey longing and innocence. Self-described slow jam “You Know What I Mean” was another early highlight; it could be a sleeper hit for slow-dance time come prom season.
As a frontwoman, Follin exudes subtle starpower, the clear focal point at stage center surrounded by four seemingly interchangeable dudes with shoulder-length hair. She kept returning to the same simple shoulder shakes and dips, but that was appropriate for these songs that inspire some movement but not all-out dancing. Anything else would have been overdoing it, and Cults excels at knowing how far to go. After ending its set with early hit “Go Outside,” the band simply stayed onstage and announced it would play an encore without the wholly unnecessary walkoff. “Oh My God,” another lightly poignant song, ended things after 45 perfectly charming minutes.