Cub Sport – Scala, London, (17th October 2019)

It’s easy to write a love song; musicians have been doing it for years. Stick around the 50-70bpm mark. Lay down a simple chord progression. Layer on some sickly sweet lyrics – emotional enough to be intimately relatable and yet vague enough to be intimately relatable to just about anyone who listens. Congratulations, here’s your record deal.

Writing a love song about a same-sex relationship is somewhat harder; the systemic opression of LGBT+ people the world over adds layers of complexity to the already chaotic human experience that is love, and so a queer love song can carry with it a greater sense of meaning, and with that a greater power to bring hope to those trying to work out their own love stories.

The alt-pop four-piece Cub Sport are forthright in identifying themselves as a queer pop group, and throughout their sold-out show at London’s Scala singer-songwriter Tim Nelson repeatedly references and celebrates his love for bandmate and husband Sam Netterfield, citing their relationship and his coming-out as inspiration for his music, music which is unapologetically honest and emotionally raw.

This rawness comes through in full force as Nelson appears on stage, alone, to deliver a slow and melancholic vocal solo, his eerie stillness permeating the breathless crowd. Melodically this leaves a little to be desired but as an atmosphere building tool it works well.  When joined by the rest of the band, the energy picks up somewhat – Nelson glides across the stage with slow, serpentine movements, reaching out to the crowd to embrace his fans.

‘Hawaiian Party’ builds some nice musical layers but the lyrics perhaps do too good a job of portraying the boredom of a dead-end relationship; it would be exciting to see Nelson make more use of his vocal range here. The rest of the band too, take a while to build their energy. Muli-instrumentalist Zoe Davis comes to the front to rapturous applause, only to carry on playing what she had been playing at the back, before returning moments later.

The somewhat shaky start is made up for, however.  ‘Summer Lover’ utilises a similar slow pace but intricately builds layers of spacey synths beneath Nelson’s hushed vocals, now demonstrating a richer range. Straying from the ever-blurring boundary between indie and pop, ‘I Never Cried So Much In My Whole Life’ melds a clean and simple guitar riff with falsetto vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place in a 90s garage anthem. Gravelly vocals from Netterfield complement Nelson’s delicate falsetto and balance the song.

‘Limousine’ gives a welcome tempo boost and a darker atmosphere with a strong RnB sensibility to the lyrics. Nelson’s falsetto ad-libs over the top add a nice touch and do well to further demonstrate the vocal range missing in earlier parts of the performance. ‘Come On Mess Me Up’ delivers a powerful and heartfelt ballad from the group’s debut album; the fan-favourite is a catchy indie-pop anthem which gets the crowd crooning along.

Cub Sport may still be shaking loose from their traditional “Front-man and the Band” format – indeed in their first iteration they went by Tim Nelson and the Cub Scouts – but they undeniably have talent, buckets of passion, and a dedicated fan base. Their honesty and transparency will allow them to continue growing, and their fluid musical identity will give them the tools to evolve, sharing more stories of love in a world where it feels increasingly hard to come by.