Few bands have captured the rock ‘n roll essence as much as British-born boys, The Cult. Renowned for their hits like She Sells Sanctuary, Rain and Fire Woman, they’ve had numerous top ten hits and sold millions of records worldwide. And it’s not difficult to see why, either. With frontman Ian Astbury leaping about onstage, accompanied with electrifying guitar master Billy Duffy, they provide a spectacle of non-stop, jet-fueled rock.
I have vivid memories of listening to those songs as a kid – and expanding throughout their repertoire just recently – so when I saw the legendary Brits were embarking on a worldwide tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their best-selling album, ‘Sonic Temple’, I simply had to go.
And so, on the 29th of October, my mother, father and I (after all, my parents are great fans of the band and my mother is the whole reason we know about them – she’d also seen them perform 34 years ago) journeyed to the historic city of Portsmouth, wherein the Guildhall would soon be home to a three hour show of raw power.
As I shuffled into the main standing area and waited for the warm-up act, I found myself to be one of the youngest there. But by no means was this a bad thing; after all, all the crowds were dressed in tour t-shirts from the eighties, which was awesome to see. And then the lights faded, and The Last Internationale stepped out.
They proved a fearsome rival to the initial impatience of the Portsmouth crowd. With a fusion of rock, punk and a tinge of pop, The Last Internationale really brought the Guildhall down. Barreling through a five-song setlist – including the beautiful Wanted Man that proved a personal favourite – vocalist Delila Paz showed just how powerful her voice is, hitting notes I didn’t even think possible. Guitarist Edgey Pires really stole the show though, banging his head as if it were filled with lead weights – jumping around onstage with infectious guitar solos that were painful just to look at. All the while, drummer Brad Wilk (Of Rage Against the Machine fame) went mad in the background, thundering away like Thor with his mighty hammer.
And then, just a half-hour later they were gone, and preparations began for the coming of The Cult. The excitement and tension rang through the air like the shot of starting pistol; ever-present and keeping our breath. Finally, Damon Fox – keyboardist and vocals – and John Tempesta – drummer – marched onto the stage, met with a cacophonous cheer from the crowds. Billy Duffy followed next, only amplifying the chant as he strapped on his famous black axe and smiled warmly. Bassist Grant Fitzpatrick struck the opening chords to Sun King (the opener of ‘Sonic Temple’) and we settled down for what was bound to be a night of unadulterated rock.
When frontman Ian Astbury strolled onto the stage like a man popping down for the daily newspaper, I was already taken aback by his stage presence. Dressed in a casual suit and shades – even in the dark of the Guildhall – and rattling his tambourine, he truly was the Sun King. It showed me just how great they looked for their age, and they sounded even better.
Checking off hits like Sun King and Wild Flower (from the band’s third album, ‘Electric’, that peaked at number four in the UK) with the strength and virility of a ram, The Cult were on fire that night. Billy Duffy sounded perfect on the guitar, reenacting many a ‘Sonic Temple’ pose, while Astbury reeled off long note after long note after high note. ‘I’m the wolfchild, girl…’ – Yes, Ian, you are. And you’re on top form.
A few album tracks from ‘Sonic Temple’ came next – each sounding great, by the way, especially American Horse – before the rock ballad of Sweet Soul Sister came next, the second of the album’s four hit singles. A beautiful solo from Duffy testified to the band’s enduring might after all these years, and ability to capture a crowd.
Edie (Ciao Baby) has always been a highlight of the band’s discography for me – An unusually softer track that crescendos into a flawless guitar-driven suite. Astbury sounded the best he’s ever done here, as far as I’m concerned, and even beat off security for the sake of refusing to let the ‘moment be ruined’. The guy showed time and time again how much he wanted the audience to connect and share the moment together.
Rain proved to be just as popular onstage as it was off, complete with lighting effects that really added to the apocalyptic atmosphere of the song. Duffy’s closing riff – though repetitive – never got old and sounded contagious to the driving foot-taps and air punches of the audience. Spiritwalker and Rise (a more recent track from ‘Beyond Good and Evil’) were also brilliant, solidifying that any era of The Cult is worth doing right. And that’s onstage, in front of a roaring crowd, with the volume done up to eleven.
The final two songs of the main set were ‘Sonic Temple’s relentless Fire Woman and ‘Electric’s Love Removal Machine. The riffs of both were truly explosive and clearly much-anticipated anthems of bygone rock ‘n roll. They were classic Cult and I was loving every moment of it, clapping along until my palms went numb.
Five minutes of darkness and cheering later, and they came back out, resplendent as ever in their fame and glory. ‘You’re making us work our f**king asses off…’ Astbury jokes, much to the sadistic delight of fans, before crashing into the ever-infectious riff of Lil’ Devil. The song, though short and lyrically ambiguous, features possibly the best opening riff of all time, and live it was nothing short of monumental.
And then, at last, the band’s biggest song. Their signature. The one song they’d be heckled offstage for not playing. She Sells Sanctuary, from the band’s 1985 commercial breakthrough, ‘Love’, is a track much in the same vein of Rain, in that lyrically it’s not all that impressive. But sound-wise, is a bloody firecracker. Though, using that same analogy, it’s more of an inferno. The guitar is endlessly catchy, chugging away like a steam locomotive as Astbury sings to you of feeling out of place and dragged through the dirt for merely existing. It’s a message we can all resonate with sometimes, but not here, not in the Portsmouth Guildhall, not tonight. Tonight, we are all brothers, sharing in the ridiculously catchy rituals of The Cult.
Their 17-song setlist was flawless, full of hits and deep cuts that proved a spectacle to watch onstage. They sound better than ever, and I cannot wait to hear new music that’s rumoured to be in the works as of right now. ‘Here she comes again, I love the Rain.’