Cut Copy Add Human Touch to Ultra Music Fest

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Cut Copy's Dan Whitford / Photo by Ian Witlen
WRITTEN BY
Arielle Castillo

Cut Copy launched their U.S. tour Saturday night at the sprawling Ultra Music Festival in downtown Miami -- a gutsy move. The sold-out dance music rager, which draws 150,000 fans over three days every March, has featured live acts for years, but its nighttime stage slots notoriously demand a thumping intensity, and are often booked with the world's most popular DJs, like Paul Van Dyk, Tiesto, and Paul Oakenfold.

So how would four Australians in neat, fitted trousers keep up the tribal vibe with material from their latest (and perhaps least dance-y) album, this year's Zonoscope?

Just fine, it turns out, with the band's sheer human nature offering a welcome alternative to Ultra's pervasive, synthetic pulse. Frontman Dan Whitford made slight apologies for his decided un-raviness early on. "I must admit I feel a little overdressed today," he announced near the beginning of the performance, motioning to his fresh-pressed oxford shirt, clearly noticing that the crowd was wearing next to nothing.

Whitford's syncopated, girl-group style, arm-pumping dance moves further personalized affairs, with guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Tim Hoey serving as Whitford's willing hype man. He spent most of the show in front of the monitors, using the time between his own fancy fretwork to motion to the crowd like a religious revival leader.

Sonically, the material from all three of the band's albums showcased their versatility, the songs' muscular grooves sweetened by Whitford's vocals. Manning a table of effects pedals, the frontman started the evening with a two-song medley of "Visions" and "Nobody Lost, Nobody Found" from Cut Copy's second album, In Ghost Colours.

The first shimmering keyboard passage of the first song drew massive applause, and when Whitford announced they'd play a few songs from Zonoscope, there were deafening cheers. For the first selection from the album, "Corner of the Sky," all the band members manned percussion, working the song up from a long instrumental intro that crescendoed into a synth explosion at the chorus. (It helped the tripped-out vibe, also, that a good third of the audience was waving either a blinking light or an inflatable plastic toy.)

"Take Me Over" was the high point among the new material. Led by a now-extremely-sweat-soaked Whitford, the band turned it into a New Wave-textured slab of tropical disco, with every band member except drummer Mitchell Scott lending some "ooohs" to the bridge. "Pharaohs and Pyramids" came across as an acid house track that would have fit in fine at Manchester's famous Hacienda nightclub in the early '90s, and proved to be the most emotionally nostalgic point of the show, with the chorus' cry: "Please, baby, don't take my heart away."

There was no time for tissue-grabbing, though, as from there, Cut Copy segued into "Saturdays," the set's only selection from the band's 2004 debut, Bright Like Neon Love. Though the song has aged just fine, it was truly on the next song, "Hearts on Fire," when the show reached its fever pitch. That was largely Hoey's doing, as he decided to bring some punk energy to the proceedings. "I want everyone to fucking jump!" he commanded, after a personal Tiesto moment in which he assumed the mega-DJ's trademark god-like, arms-raised pose. And jump everyone did, and the ground shook.

After this mass ecstatic peak, it was a little odd that the band turned down the tempo for the set's closing numbers. "Need You Now," wasn't exactly slow, but it did mark a lessening of the pace, and the closing number, "Out There On the Ice," was sunny and danceable, but nowhere near as pummeling as the mid-set selections. It was a soothing change, though, underscoring the fact that beyond the band's dance floor-ready beats, Cut Copy's anchored by real human warmth.

Setlist

  1. Visions/Nobody Lost, Nobody Found
  2. Corner of the Sky
  3. Lights and Music
  4. Take Me Over
  5. Pharaohs and Pyramids
  6. Saturdays
  7. Hearts on Fire
  8. Need You Now
  9. Out There on the Ice
00:00 00:00 No Song Selected More info
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