words by Michael Taylor
The Cult were quite the busy bees in Austin during SXSW. They played 2 small shows Friday, then headlined the final free SXSW concert series at Auditorium Shores Saturday night.
One of the opening acts, Shiny Toy Guns, took the stage, and though I wasn’t familiar with their body of work, they had a catchy synth-pop vibe that went over well with the crowd. They reminded me a bit of the early ‘80s New Wave act Missing Persons. And to further prove their ‘80s influence, they ended the set with a solid (but not transformative) version of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom”.
Next up were Bright Light Social Hour of Austin. Again, not a band I had prior familiarity with. This is a group you could’ve imagined opening for Grand Funk Railroad or Bad Company in the early ‘70s. They sounded liked they were teleported through time. Not my particular cup of rock tea, but they were solid and had a good response from the crowd.
Shortly thereafter, The Cult took the stage. This is a band I’ve seen many times, but happily they continue to not rest on their laurels and sounded like they had something to prove this evening.
They hit the stage with the fan favorite “Lil’ Devil”. The rough and ready AC/DC style rocker set the show off to a strong start. Not content to merely be a nostalgia act, they led in with new songs off their forthcoming new album Choice Of Weapon. “Honey From A Knife” in particular was a standout, with a riff from the Iggy and The Stooges playbook. They also played a rare performance of one of their earliest songs “Horse Nation” which was a welcome addition to the set. The tribal drumming and proto-Goth/Spaghetti Western jangly guitar still sounding fresh and vibrant.
More new tracks followed, the current single (and free download) “Lucifer” was solid and propulsive, with a nice sinewy groove. And it had a surprise performance on bongos by no other than Matthew McConaughey. Remembering the actor’s infamous arrest from playing bongos in the nude, it was a quirky out-of-the-blue moment that brought chuckles and good will. He also came out later to play on “Spiritwalker” which was the Cult’s first proper single released way back in 1983.
Of course the band would be remiss if they didn’t pepper their set with their biggest hits, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. “Wildflower” and “Fire Woman” both went over big, and sounded great. Their somber ballad released a couple of years ago “Embers” didn’t go over quite as well as they were suffering some technical issues. But lead vocalist Ian Astbury filled the gap with his trademark esoteric humor.
No one has quite the unique gift for gab in the stage banter department. During the aforementioned technical glitch, he gave a shout out to Willie Nelson. “ Why is Willie always getting busted in Texas? Po-po gotta know Willie!”
Ian never has a problem trying to agitate the audience into being more present and mobile during the performance. “This near 50-year-old man has more energy in his ass than everyone out there! “ He then went into a profanity-laden rant that is too crude to print here, but it was hilarious.
But that’s Ian for you. He’s not being malicious; he just wants everyone to go for broke and surrender to the power of the rock. And I would be remiss not to mention his performance. Having seen them many times over (this would be my 10th), his vocals sounded powerful and rich. At times in the past he has sounded hoarse and winded, but not tonight.
A few more new tracks followed. “For The Animals” which had a nice call and response between Ian and bassist Chris Wyse, and “The Wolf” which was reminiscent of “She Sells Sanctuary” with its big gliding guitar riff.
Guitarist Billy Duffy was also in fine form, wailing away on his melodic solos and bashing out huge power chords. They remain a tight well-oiled machine nearly 30 years after their inception. John Tempesta, former drummer for White Zombie, Testament & Helmet, laid down a solid, dynamic groove. In a band that has seen more drummer changes than Spinal Tap, it’s nice to see him still in the band 6 years later.
The band ended with their standard barnburners “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Love Removal Machine”. They both delivered, although “Sanctuary” will always reign supreme for me. It’s still one of the most perfect, blissful rock songs of the ‘80s. The swirling, hypnotic sitar-ish riff never fails to get some of the biggest cheers of the night and get the crowd moving. It remains a thing of beauty.
There’s been much press made lately that the Cult are gunning for the big time again with this new album. While a return to their Sonic Temple popularity seems unlikely given the way pop music almost exclusively focuses on the flavor of the week, created by those in their 20’s, they made a fine showing. They don’t need to make a comeback in the eyes of their diehard fans, because they never went away. They never have to worry about playing to an empty house, even if it’s an amphitheater instead of a stadium. Ian once said, “We don’t have fans, we have addicts.” This was in full evidence tonight, and I can attest to my addiction.
In the end, the Cult delivered a great set that provided the comfort food of their classic hits to their core fan base, engaged them with solid new songs, and with any luck, caught the attention of folks unfamiliar with their work and made some new future Cult-addicts in the process. I look forward to concert # 11 and picking up their new release in May.
THE CULT SET LIST:
Honey From A Knife
For the Love of the Animals
She Sells Sanctuary
Love Removal Machine