Sept 10th 2012
It’s the first night of the tour that came with lots of baggage.
On paper it must have looked simple. Stick three iconic, for want of better word Goth, period bands together on one bill and watch the tickets fly out. With the resurgent Killing Joke opening and the evergreen popular The Mission in the middle of the bill with the Cult headlining this should have been simple.
Initially booked into the Manchester Arena it was downgraded to the Apollo- which is still a pretty big venue and then the shit really hit the fan.
Killing Joke quite the bill, then came back and then left again when Jaz Coleman went to the desert to record Bedouin tribesman or something.
Salvaging something from the wreckage The Cult and The Mission have still just about sold out the old place which takes some doing in the middle of a recession. When the Cult hit the stage tonight they look perfectly comfortable back on the big boards in what is as close to hometown show as they can play these days with Ian Astbury hailing from Birkenhead and Billy Duffy from Wythenshawe.
The band have certainly upped the ante since their last trip to Manchester which was not even a year ago. They ere sill great that night but tonight they seem to have got even tighter and more powerful, maybe they had to step up a gear with the initial threat of having to follow Killing Joke onstage. This is no slight on the Cult, afterall they are damn fine rock n roll band it’s just the intensity of Killing Joke would make all bands seem smaller and a lot of legwork has to be done to seize the raw power.
The Cult in 2012 are a hard touring machine. They have the whole Cult thing really nailed. Billy Duffy is an amazing guitar player. His restless playing fills the songs. There’s barely a part of any song where he just plays hanging chords or rhythm. He’s got licks crammed into every bar, riffs jammed into every verse and it shouldn’t work. After all this kind of guitar noodling stuff was meant to have been chased away with the dinosaurs but when it is sieved through the punk ethic it works. None of his playing is wasteful or even that show-offy. It’s all a necessary component to the songs and his fluid control of the molten electricity is the key part to the band’s creative core. He has the power of Steve Jones and the certainty of Jimmy Page and is on top form tonight.
For most singers navigating their way through this proliferation of detail would be impossible. A singer hates it when a guitar player goes into lead mode when they are trying to sing but the ever enigmatic Ian Astbury has one of the great signature voices of rock n roll and can match the tidal wave of guitar action from his long term foil and it’s this battle for space between the two of them is the heart and soul of the band.
These days they have learned to live with each other and actually seem very fond. At the end of the set Ian leads Billy back on stage, hand in hand and makes him take the mic to big up his hometown droogs- which he does with a light blue slant. It’s all very genuine and quite touching.
The set is pure rock. It’s the remnants of when two very intelligent men who came out of the eighties underground, the time of post punk and decided to go to the heart of rock lore instead of being ironic and reinvent it on their own term. When it actually broke massive they were consumed by it. They dived head first into the LA lifestyle, the screaming of ‘baby’ in songs which Ian laughs about tonight and the whole rock n roll star shtick. It’s this battle between the Limo lifestyle, which is always very attractive, and the esoteric Crass/shamanistic/ outdoor intellectual that makes Ian Astbury such a fascinating character. This is the very on-going internal battle within him that can’t decide to got all out rock buffoon mode and enjoy the indulgence of the rock star life which we could all do with now and then or remains true to his roots of following Crass round the UK. Crass leant him the classic native American history book “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee’ that turned him onto he native American culture and he became a total soaker up of the amazing youth culture on offer at the time.
Tonight Ian is more rock star, with his wonderful voice soaring and sounding as powerful and sure as it did with he Southern Death Cult all those years ago, He has think black shades and a fetching fake fur lined jacket and wallets the stage like some kind a glam droog- a metal guru of the 21st century. He cocks his head back and sings and out comes one of the great rock voices- fill of heart and soul.
The band play some of new tunes which sound great live as the band seeks a sound that suits not for the now. They are frustrated by not being able to find the knock out hits but it’s the radio and TV that is set dead against rock music and they will have to rely on their own audience from now on in.
When they deal out She Sells Sanctuary, they sound timeless as the chiming chords of the 21st century jukebox classic float out. The final encore of Love Removal Machine- with its stub toed, AC/DC style riff is a great zig zag wanderer and sets alight the dancing pit.
This is the new Cult- slick and powerful but with enough of the original idealism and madness left in there to make them a far more interesting proposition than you average rock band. Of course Ian wants more. He wants rock n roll to mean what it did when his heroes were at the peak of their powers- the irony of his band is that they have the longevity that many of the heroes lacked, they haven’t lost their edge- it’s just that rock n roll doesn’t mean the same anymore.
The Cult are a great night our. A great romp through the kind of rock n roll that makes you feel good about life. Uplifting, grinding dirty songs. A strut on the wild side but they can’t change the world. Like so many great guitar bands of our time they have been marginalised- the mainstream won’t play rock, alternative radio plays Coldplay and 6 music is probably too indie and too retro-Peel to play this noisy rock stuff.
That they still manage to pack out the Apollo and sound so alive is a testament to their quality and the timelessness of their anthems…