The Turning Gem

Music, Film, Family

Show Review: Softcult w/ Soft Blue Shimmer – Mahall’s, Lakewood, Ohio

Last month, I wrote about “Love Song” by Softcult. The song took me by surprise and set off a wave of nostalgia that I was happy to continue enjoying at Softcult‘s show in Lakewood, Ohio. with Soft Blue Shimmer.

The Cleveland area is couple hours from Toledo, depending on the club. There are a lot of great places in Cleveland like Beachland Ballroom, The Grog Shop, and No Class.Lakewood is west of Cleveland and a half hour closer to Toledo, and therefore Detroit. So, it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re on your way to The Foundry, or Mahall’s (which is where I was headed), especially if driving conditions are… well, like they are in Ohio pretty much any time of year. March is particularly infuriating for Ohioan’s.

I had never been to Mahall’s before, but I’d be excited to see more shows there. It’s part bowling alley, part performance venue where you can also buy records and vintage clothing. So, the vibe in there is laidback and friendly. That’s really important for me on any night, though it helps even more if you’re old enough to remember seeing bands like Slowdive, Pale Saints, and the Sundays in small clubs.

I walked in just before Soft Blue Shimmer started their set. They’re a dream pop band from Los Angeles, California. The band’s vocalist, Meredith Ramond, made it known that Soft Blue Shimmer were no strangers to Mahall’s or the Cleveland area, and spoke highly of Softcult as a band and as tour-mates.

Ramond, who also plays bass, has a breezy voice, not unlike Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays, or Miki Berenyi of Lush. Soft Blue Shimmer‘s guitar and drum sounds round out the dream pop/shoegaze aesthetic reminding me of bands like Pale Saints, and Ride. Though these groups are similar to Soft Blue Shimmer by association, I hadn’t realized the extent of that prior to this show.

They played a good-sized set with songs representing both of their LP’s about equally (Heaven is Inches Away, 2020, and Love Lives in the Body, 2021), the last two of which I personally enjoyed the most (“9090,” and “Love Being.“)

I liked the way they approached performing – uncomplicated, approachable, and serious.

Soft Blue Shimmer: Setlist – Mahall’s, Lakewood, OH 3-10-23

As Softcult took the stage, the crowd was genuinely excited. The anticipation in that room had an electricity to it, partially stoked by Soft Blue Shimmer, and an as-of-yet unspoken camaraderie with the people in attendance.

Opening with “Spit it Out,” “Another Bish,” and “Gloomy Girl,” Softcult immediately tapped into the post-grunge/pre-internet rage and radical acceptance of the mid-1990s. Mix this with the songwriting sensibilities of bands like Pixies, Veruca Salt, The Innocence Mission, and Cocteau Twins, and you’ll get a decent idea of how enormous things were shaping up to be.

Sisters Mercedes (vocals/guitar) and Phoenix (drums/vocals) Arn-Horn are an impressive team, with Mercedes integrating the band’s person-centered philosophy, as well as their cultural and political ideologies into her on-stage banter. Her anger at inequality and injustice is every bit as prominent as her love of humanity, and freely shares her obvious admiration for riot girrrl ideology with every breath.

As an introduction to the song “BWBB,” she took the opportunity to edify the crowd about a 33-year-old woman named Sarah Everard who was killed by a policeman on her way home from work one evening, blaming equally the pervading cultures of police brutality and violence against women. She prefaced “Gaslight,” and “Someone2Me” with similar grievances, articulating the universality of pain caused by chauvinism, bullying, and victim shaming.

The nostalgia Softcult inspired in me had as much to do with their Slowdive-meets-Sleater-Kinney sound as their eloquently tight-knit stage presence. They tied in the seething feminine courage of lesser-known bands like Curve and Medicine in such a way that I couldn’t help but think back to a time when the club scene in Toledo made me as many friends as musical cohorts.

The years between 1993 and 1998 – the friends I had, and the bands we went to see. The band I was in and the bands that played shows with us. The Lollapalooza Festival presided over by Jane’s Addiction‘s Perry Farrell, and Korn‘s Family Values Tour were mainstream extensions to the way local musicians connected and supported each other.

These were the Clinton years, for better or worse. We witnessed the rise and fall of Curt Cobain, the Oklahoma City bombing, the televised trial of OJ Simpson, and the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. The events helped shape the popular music of the day, and the ways in which we approved or disapproved. To be at a show twenty years later and see things haven’t changed is bittersweet.

Mercedes Arn-Horn says that Softcult‘s objectives are to promote accountability and encourage a world-view in which we all aspire to leave the world a better place than it was when we found it. When you walk into a room, do your best to leave a positive impression on the people in it with you. Softcult does this extraordinarily well.

Softcult‘s tour with Soft Blue Shimmer ends this Friday the 24th of March at Cobra Lounge in Chicago, IL. The band begins gracing European stages from April 8th through April 20th.

Softcult: Setlist – Mahall’s, Lakewood, OH 3-10-23


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