Live Review: Cult of Youth makes some noise on Halloween

For anyone familiar with how bumping Club Congress can get on any given party night, it’s fair to say that Congress was something of an odd choice to play for a DIY-leaning indie punk band like Cult of Youth.

Taking the stage after a few solid hours of automatic DJs, at first it looked like the Brooklyn band was going to have no one watching them despite the plethora of people and costumes all around the property. Yet the band looked ready to rock. Every member except frontman Sean Ragon showed up with white and black facepaint, as if getting into the spirit of All Souls a few days early. As for Ragon, he strolled up to the microphone unassumingly with acoustic in hand, proceeding to light off the first song of the night despite only myself and a handful of other people in front of the stage.

Awash in red light Cult of Youth as a band sounded good and dangerous. The drums thudded away with a thunderous boom and the fuzzed-out bass plodded overtop Ragon’s fierce strumming like an aural pickaxe. By the time Ragon was starting their second song, Love Will Prevail’s fantastic “Golden Age,” the indoor audience area had already begun to fill up, soon reaching near-maximum capacity midway through the band’s ten song set. With every subsequent song it seemed that Ragon became more and more invested in the performance, which is to say he got wonderfully crazier as the night went on. For single “Garden of Delights” he bugged his eyes out at the audience and shook his head over his shoulder as if a dog ridding itself of water. In a leather jacket and the fastest acoustic strumming in punk rock, Ragon commanded the stage with a charisma rooted in DIY punk tradition than any kind of indie posturing, at times losing himself in the moment but never for a second seeming ungrateful or annoyed by the rowdy party atmosphere. Surprisingly enough, the ever-growing crowd responded quite well to Ragon’s guttural howls and emotive flailing, cheering and walloping along with the band in a way that seemed to feed the energy of their performance.

The sound itself was quite excellent as well, with “Garden of Delights” transforming into an apocalyptic death march that far outdid the more methodical approach on 2012’s Love Will Prevail. The points at which Ragon was joined by his fellow guitarists on gang vocals were particularly affecting and well-mixed, the “Love will prevail” cry of “Garden of Delights” or the backing chants on “New Old Ways” all making for great sing-along moments for anyone who happened to know the words. Perhaps the most breathtaking performance of the night, however, was an instrumental jam for which Ragon put down the acoustic guitar and wielded his trumpet like a maniac. I didn’t recognize the music from any track on their albums, so it could have been some kind of improvisational jam or new track, but wherever it came from the band played with a ferocity unmatched by any other song in the set. Jumping about like a shaman, Ragon leaned back and forced the trumpet into the microphone, his infectious movement threatening to knock the stand over for the entirety of the song as he squeaked and squealed scales of notes to the audience. Merely describing it as “avant-garde” or “free jazz” might do injustice to both the performance and the terms, but truly the bursts of sound Ragon coerced from the trumpet were astounding. Topping it all off, Ragon ran the entire trumpet part through a loop pedal which he proceeded to play and feedback through while still playing his main part, creating a wonderful cacophony quite alarming to anyone hoping for a relaxed Halloween jam.

Nonetheless Cult of Youth won over the crowd, and as Ragon told me after the show, “We’re just glad to be able to get paid to travel, play music, and party!” In true punk fashion, it was the people and the music that mattered tonight.