Over the past decade, Wesley Eisold, renowned among fans of synthpop for his dark wave project Cold Cave, has preferred to release music in small EP bursts rather than in full-length albums.
Most recently, Wes published Fate in Seven Lessons via his own Heartworm Press. The seven tracks of the record, released in 2021, represent the single biggest slice of music that he’s released in sometime, and he presented two of the songs in concert recently at Black Cat on his most recent tour, opening with “Prayer from Nowhere” and closing the main set with “Promised Land” from the album.
At Black Cat on Sept. 23, Cold Cave’s “Prayer from Nowhere” fit lyrics of despair into a upbeat rat-a-tat rhythm, presenting something akin perhaps to the sound that might have been made had the late Ian Curtis been writing lyrics for New Order instead of Joy Division. Wes’ singing voice also carried the plaintive, spare melancholy heard in the Curtis oeuvre, instilling a sense of dread in the audience.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s pleasant to hear Wes sing, and the room, which was roughly three-quarters full, bopped along to his voice and gained some sustenance from it.
Watch the official music video for “Prayer from Nowhere” by Cold Cave on YouTube:
My favorite Cold Cave song was presented as the second selection of the night — early single “Love Comes Close” from the debut LP of the same name (2009). The number was a true earworm with its cascading dance cadence, and while it’s a song about death and love, it translates as more sweet than sour.
At Black Cat, Wes and his band performed in total darkness but with a warm light filling the stage from behind. I’m well used to dark shows at Black Cat, and so this was not surprising. I’ll soon be on my way to see Cold Cave in the daylight of the Darker Waves Festival in California this November, however, and I think Wes and company look better in the light. They are honestly handsome people who look very cool, and Wes’ sunglasses-and-flowing hair appearance adds a visual dimension that connects well to the music.
That said, by the time Cold Cave reached the third song in their set, “Glory” (2017), no one cared about the darkness. We all were too busy dancing, washed away by the soaring melodies of the smartly crafted Cold Cave tunes.
Cold Cave’s sophomore full-length album, Cherish the Light Years (2011 via Matador) was the star of this show, though, as Wes picked six of its songs for the 15-song setlist. The audience cheered to the opening notes of fan-favorite “Confetti” from the album. It’s a song about deceptive appearances, but it too is full of big bright synths. Toward the end of the main set, the band also performed “Villains of the Moon,” a song that’s as close structurally as Cold Cave get to a traditional rock song, and the audience kept cheering along.
Watch the official music video for “Villains of the Moon” by Cold Cave on YouTube:
I think one of the reasons that Cold Cave’s songs work so well is because Wes is genuinely nice and kind person. And so you have songs of despair about being buried metaphorically by pain and loss but they are presented in such a cathartic way, which is very much how they were received at Black Cat. Cold Cave’s music washed over people in a way that felt very cleansing, not heavy, but songs that provoked mood and feeling nonetheless.
While it’s true that sense of dread inhabits Cold Cave’s music, the live experience ultimately might leave you feeling a little bit lighter.
Here are a few more photos of Cold Cave performing at Black Cat on Sept. 23, 2023.