Originally published on May 12, 2012
Do you remember your first Cult? I do. Like an event of national consequence. It was 1986, 3rd floor St Joe’s Hall at St. Joseph’s College, “She Sells Sanctuary.” Mary Martha, a tiny brunette with freckles and a retainer yelled “Stop! I love this band.” Raising her arms in the air and dancing around the dorm room, she declared “They make me want to just shake my whole body! Have you seen the video? Ian Astbury is so cool!” That’s right, the demise of Catholic girls everywhere. I headed to town that weekend to buy “Love,” on cassette. I wore that baby down to shreds by the end of the school year.
I’d like to offer a couple of things before I begin. First, it seems to me that you are either a Cult fan or not. Now you might not be as involved with The Cult as the adorable couple, Kristine and Nunzio, I chatted with outside the Casino Ballroom who met at a Cult concert, later married, and surround themselves with sentimental symbols of the band, but the Cult’s sound either does it for you or not. This I truly believe. I’ve never met someone noncommittal about this band – everyone who has heard them has an opinion, which leads me to my next point.
Ian Astbury, front man and typically the voice of the band, has never been shy with his opinions on our institutions or his disdain for authority. We share that in common. In recent interviews, like the one with Magnet Magazine, he shares his concern that reviewers and writers in a position of seeming authority do not state their credentials. I wholeheartedly agree. In a world of information overload, we have lost the distinction between fact and opinion. On that note, Mr. Astbury, this review is from the point of view of a longtime fan finally able to take the time and opportunity to see The Cult live. And by the way, in my opinion, if you’re not a fan of The Cult, there is a piece of your brain missing. You should get it checked.
When it was time for The Cult. Taking the stage, guitarist Billy Duffy started the iconic riff of “Lil’ Devil” for a crowd that was ready and anxious for the start of the show. Let’s face it, this was an older crowd, and we have an earlier bedtime than we did in 1986. It was worth staying up. A mix of well-known favorites and new material, the set list moved to “Honey from a Knife” from their newest release, “Weapon of Choice.” This new album maintains The Cult’s sound and viewpoint but adds a new range in the music and themes. As Astbury reminded us during the show – “expand your horizons.”
Astbury’s energy and interaction with the crowd was just getting going by the third song, “Rain.” While I truly believe that live performances should have creative freedom from the studio recordings, I was a bit concerned by this point in the set list. Astbury seemed to be working very hard vocally. That’s understandable, in my opinion, since the man has The Voice of an entire genre. That’s a lot of pressure. Had someone whispered “you know, he’s battling a cold,” I’d have been relieved. However, the crowd was appreciative and supportive, and this soon evened out with his vocals regaining typical power and presence.
The dreamy “Lucifer” was next. With Duffy’s guitar akin to a talk box, this tune was rawer than the recorded version, more wide open in energy. Following with “Nirvana,” again Duffy’s guitar skills had my attention. He bends the sound, makes it hover in an iconic metal riff. Just like twenty-plus years ago, the band makes you want to move your whole body. While most bands and their songs are clearly sums of parts, for me The Cult’s sound and songs are entities, whole organic creations.
I was impressed with Astbury’s connection to the crowd. I wasn’t sure how he would bring his personality, his opinions and beliefs, to the stage, but he did so with sincerity and warmth. Before “Embers” he explained that the song is about redemption. Redemption, I would add, that is wrapped in strong guitar, pounding drums, and yearning. “Hold on. Help is coming soon.” he told the crowd. One of his friends had taken their life within the week. “When you get to that place, wait, it turns around.” he urged. May that message go from your lips to so many peoples’ ears, Ian.
With the start of “Fire Woman,” Astbury was hitting his stride. He told us, “This ain’t no American Idol” and blasted through the tune with stage lights flashing, bringing the show alive with even more crowd interaction, smiling. “The Wolf” and “Wild Flower” were equally as strong, seeped in jagged edges and rhythm. The music was more expansive live than I imagined it would be, and the songs seemed to slip by in no time. “Phoenix,” “For the Animals,” and “Spirit Walker” were driven by Astbury’s ever-strengthening vocals and combination of lead and rhythm guitars. Suddenly it was “She Sells Sanctuary,” of course a crowd favorite. I was struck by the simplicity of the song, the gentleness of the riff that leaves the listener feeling charged, alert.
Coming back as promised for an encore, the band switched it up a bit and performed “Rise,” reminding us that “’cause you’re up against the world and still you rise.” May that be so. Then it was a full explosion with the hit “Love Removal Machine.” A mass of heavy guitar, rhythm, and Astbury, this final song was packed with everything wild and wonderful that Cult fans came out to see. We had those last few minutes to celebrate and enjoy, and then it was over.
So I finally saw The Cult live. Now I am inspired to explore and revisit the songs all over again. Although I’ve always been vocally outside the pack, I’m boning up on Astbury’s battle cry against the norms created by the Mutual Admiration Society, otherwise known in my house as Fans of The Institutions. There is more to The Cult than what makes you want to shake your whole body. There is a blending of connection with reaction, linking tangled lyrical symbolism with vast but intense, focused sound. Beneath the all-consuming guitar, crashing drums, and the theatric display, there is a potent and timely message.
The Cult Band Members from the 2012 Tour.
Ian Astbury – vocals and percussion Billy Duffy – lead guitar Mike Dimkich – rhythm guitar
Chris Wyse – bass guitar John Tempesta – drums
Set List Lil’ Devil ~ Honey from a Knife ~ Rain ~ Lucifer ~ Nirvana ~ Embers ~ Fire Woman ~ The Wolf ~ Wild Flower ~ Phoenix ~ For the Animals ~ Spiritwalker ~ She Sells Sanctuary ~ Rise ~ Love Removal Machine
Magnet Magazine’s “Q & A with The Cult’s Ian Astbury” – http://www.magnetmagazine.com/2012/05/28/qa-with-the-cults-ian-astbury/