“I’m more the nuts and bolts guy,” guitar player Billy Duffy once told Glide in 2012 about The Cult. “I’m like the engine room guy. I’m down there with the engine making sure everything is running and doing the maintenance.” Which leaves singer Ian Astbury to do the emoting, the zen-vibing and the connecting with the souls in front of him on a more transcendental level. It’s what each does best.
Following dates opening for Guns N Roses on their big 2016 summer reunion tour, The Cult has found their inner fire once again. It’s almost as if they have been reincarnated. Seeing Astbury come to life at their New Orleans show back in July was a breathtaking experience. If you’re a longtime follower of the band or just a fair-weather “Fire Woman” fan, the act definitely did not go unnoticed.
Now that they are back on the club and festival circuit, we were wondering if the flame was still ignited … and by all accounts, it was higher than ever. For the band that has been around, give or take, since 1983, has had hit records and popular videos, successful tours and some not-so-great moments, they are still kicking and screaming and recording top notch music (Hidden City being their latest).
The Varsity, right next to the LSU campus and a hit with the college crowd, was treated with, if not a sold out crowd then pretty darn close to it, fans of all ages and genders and musical tastes, many wearing Cult t-shirts on September 25th. And the band – which also featured monster drummer John Tempesta, guitar/keys player Damon Fox and bassist Grant Fitzpatrick – showered them right back with loud rock & roll and songs they couldn’t get enough of.
Case in point: from the first notes of “Wild Flower,” “Lil Devil,” “She Sells Sanctuary,” “Sweet Soul Sister” and “Fire Woman,” the crowd went insane, almost becoming the music, Astbury stepping back at times and allowing them to take over. And the volume never faltered when he did so.
Not one song in the fifteen tune setlist was unappreciated – even the lesser known newer songs. In fact, “Birds Of Paradise/Deeply Ordered Chaos” was a sensory volcano of Duffy’s guitar tones and Tempesta’s hard-hitting beat, one of the best songs of the night and full of passion – vocally and instrumentally.
It was good to see “Honey From A Knife,” off 2012’s Choice Of Weapon, back in their set after a short hiatus. It was good to have Duffy windmilling and whiplashing through “The Phoenix” and “Love Removal Machine.” It was good seeing Astbury dance like a newborn god, slamming his tambourine into his hand, conjuring the music higher and higher. And it was also good to see Astbury insist everyone be a part of the music with him and not through their phone cameras. “You’re fucking missing it!” he said at one point, shaming those who kept their eyes glued to a little digital screen instead of the stage just a few feet in front of them. “Magic can still happen,” he implored.
And magic was indeed what was happening. To not be a part of that vibe, those Duffy chords that haunted you long after the amplifiers shut off, those Hamletian Astbury cries into the microphone, was a tragedy. “GOAT” and “Gone” and “Rain” and “Dark Energy” all welded together with the classic hits and new tracks to make this one of the best shows in Louisiana this year.
A young band out of San Diego called The New Regime opened for The Cult and did a good job keeping the crowd interested and entertained. Ilan Rubin, with his psychedelic guitar-gasms, is definitely a new face to keep an eye on. He led his trio through eight songs, ending with an old-fashioned 1970’s style jamming apocalypse. Rubin, a Reznor-like singer/instrumentalist/songwriter/master of everything, has three CDs under his belt, including his latest eight song EP, Exhibit A.
But this night was all about The Cult – today’s Cult, today’s spiritual infusion of the music that made them famous, today’s vibe. Like a great wine or whiskey, they have become better with age.