Much like their wild animal counterparts, it seemed like London shoegaze outfit Cheatahs had to battle against the elements to survive last night. Their set time was so early that it was still bright out when they hit the stage, the vocals were too low, the guitars too loud, and the show had to compete for fans with the first day of Brooklyn’s Northside Festival (Thursday night showcases featured sets by Neon Indian, Titus Andronicus, Sharon Van Etten, TEEN and even Cheatahs’ own tourmates, Eagulls). But somehow they pulled it off. The room was absolutely packed. It was a surprisingly older and more business casual crowd than most Mercury Lounge shows (perhaps owing to the band’s early-90s sound and after work, happy hour set time), but the room was lively as could be. At one point during The Swan, which appeared on the band’s 2013 Extended Plays release and again on the self-titled full-length in February, there did not seem to be one person in the crowd who wasn’t dancing (or at least head-bobbing) along to the tune.
The crowd was also particularly British, which is no surprise considering the success that Cheatahs have had in their home country. They’ve spent much of the past two years being championed by London tastemakers like NME and Rough Trade, helping them fight their way to the top of a very busy East London music scene in a very short time frame. Since then they’ve had the chance to tour Europe with Cloud Nothings and just wrapped up their second North American stint of 2014.
During their set, Cheatahs ran through most of their debut album and a couple of tracks off of their Extended Plays collection. It was short, probably due to the fact that the band does not have much recorded material outside of those two releases, but the crowd wanted more. The lively room began shouting out requests for their favorite unplayed songs at the end of the set, and one particularly enthusiastic British fan in the front row had his request heard. The band ended the night with his pick, Leave To Remain, one of the punkier tunes off of their debut album and one of the only tracks from it that did not to make the original setlist. At venues like Mercury Lounge, where the bar is in a separate room from the stage, it’s always a good sign for the band when the bar space is empty during the performance. While Cheatahs rocked the stage, the bar was literally empty, every member of the audience piled into the room where the music was going on.
Cheatahs draws a lot of comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, so much so that it is difficult to find a review of their album that doesn’t name-check Kevin Shields and co. These are mostly done in a positive context, but Cheetahs’ similarities to the late-80s/early-90s alternative/shoegaze/noise pop set have also been used to knock their originality. The band will need to continue carving out their own identity if they want to take the next step, but their energetic, engaging live shows and passionate fan base that spans two continents are certainly great signs for the future.