Live Review: Cavetown + Aleksiah @ The Forum, Melbourne

22 February 2024 | 3:55 pm | Andy Hazel

Buoyed by the reaction from the crowd, Cavetown play like a band who know they can't fail.


Cavetown (Credit: Benjamin Lieber)

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"Oversold," is how tonight's show is described by a box office staffer. And it certainly seems so. A long queue of curly-haired kids in anime-hued clothes, some caped in trans and pride flags with headphones curled around their dyed hair, snakes from the doors of the Forum throughout the city. Occasional squeals emerge from mouths covered by hands, some leap in the air to release the nervous tension coursing through the line. 

The reason that this all-ages show sold out in 48 hours is down to one person, Robin Skinner, the artist better known as Cavetown. Since the release of their debut album in 2015, Cavetown has drawn a deep and abiding passion among a certain section of music fandom, one that grew exponentially during Covid lockdowns when intimate vocals best listened to on headphones, gently strummed acoustic guitars and ASMR-adjacent electronica became especially popular. These textural qualities that can often be a challenge to translate to the stage, especially when performing to an audience as vocally passionate as tonight’s. However, while this crowd is in a very forgiving mood, it quickly becomes clear nothing needs forgiving.

Opening four-piece Aleksiah is a vehicle for singer-songwriter Alexia Damokas, whose tight backing band peel indie pop riffs off angular Fenders while she lingers over vocal melodies on a series of mellow tunes like her first single, Fern. "I wanna put you on a pedestal / Eat you like a cannibal / Maybe it's chemical / But I wanna keep you like a fucking collectible," she sings to bursts of emphatic appreciation and a forest of heart hand gestures. “We're going to play a couple of love songs, so give the person you’re with a big hug and a kiss," Damokas tells the crowd. "Consensually, of course”. The band's closing song and latest single, 24, is perhaps their strongest. Here, the balance between the sweetness of the music, the subversion of the lyrics, the athleticism of the rhythm and the originality of the melodies reach an apex.

While Aleksiah successfully harnessed the optimism in the room and delivered at least one song that should feature in next year's Triple J Hottest 100, louder cheers of excitement came with the arrival of Cavetown's roadies, who gestured for calm as they tried to prepare the stage for the main event. The need to let off nervous energy is extreme. The pre-show music, a selection of classic indie pop, plays quietly. The crowd is full of polite excitement and enthusiastic respect until the moment the lights dim, and all sense of decorum and quietude vanish.

Screaming to rival the appreciation shown in the MCG over the weekend dies down as Skinner and the band arrive on stage and play the opening bars of Worm Food. "Why does this matter so much to me?” sings Skinner over keenly strummed chords. “Sometimes, I wish I didn't matter to anybody / And sometimes, I forget I do”.

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Buoyed by the reaction from the crowd, Cavetown play like a band who know they can't fail. Their songs are simple, even as the music varies between manic hyperpop and the aural equivalent of a fidget spinner. Skinner’s lyrics are heartfelt and clearly deeply personal. A pale English waif who resembles a young Weird Al Yankovic, their voice manages to sound intimate, even over the hurricane of love coming from the crowd. While they sing softly, their body courses with joy. Skinner runs across the stage, arms outstretched, gesturing for the crowd to be even more vocal in their appreciation. 

"What the heck is up with you guys?" they ask during a rare quiet moment between songs. "Thank you for being so welcoming and so happy to see me. I have a question for you. Do you like frogs?" The crowd screams in affirmation, knowing that this must mean their song, Frog, is next. "Is that a no?" deadpans Skinner. "You might like this next song, is what I’m saying." This kind of playfulness recurs throughout the night. While many of Skinner's lyrics explore complex subjects – mental health, loneliness, gender identity, the pressures of growing up in an oppressive society – with an intensely humanistic approach, there is never any sense of wallowing or angst. Songs like Heart Attack and the new single Let Them Know They're on Your Mind are glorious affirmations of self and ones that clearly and deeply resonate with the audience tonight, who find a place to put that nervous energy. "Sometimes I act like I know / But I'm really just a kid / With two corks in his eyes / And a bully in his head", Skinner sings in Juliet.

“I don’t know about you guys," they say in their clipped English tones, "but I feel like a little soft song. This is a song for little Juno." Skinner accompanies themselves on guitar for a song about their cat, a sweet ballad that inspires a thousand phones to be waved aloft, lights shining in the soft blue air of the room.

"Thanks for having such an awesome country. I wish that everyone I loved lived here so I didn't have to leave," Skinner tells us as a prelude to a story about finding "a squishy thing on a beach" that really emphasises their Englishness.

1994, Hug All Ur Friends, Fall in Love with a Girl and Laundry Day follow, each finding Skinner pacing the stage with a pride flag emblazoned with the band's name across it. They spin it in the air, drape it over their shoulders and tie it to the microphone stand, by which time we find ourselves racing toward the end of the concert. It is here that Cavetown plays their best-known songs, and those few unmoved members of the crowd find their voices. Lemon Boy turns the crowd into a choir, and This is Home inspires an even more colossal response with its refrain: "Get a load of this train-wreck / His hair's a mess and he doesn't know who he is yet /  But little do we know, the stars / Welcome him with open arms”.

After Cavetown leaves the stage and the lights fall to black, the crowd responds with one of the loudest chants of "one more song" that this writer has ever heard. The band return for the gently daft Boys Will Be Bugs and the heaviest song of the night, one that even flirts with atonality, Devil Town. The song’s very controlled and metal-inspired bombast sees Skinner depart the stage, cardboard crown on their head and arms aloft, signifiers, as if they were needed, that this night was a triumph.