Recorded performance can be like first dates, hair and make-up pristine, attired to flatter, guise in place; smooth caricature of person within. Passion may be aroused, but it takes body heat of close, personal, live performance, to really make love, to know real person, imperfections celebrated, all facets embraced. Enticed by temptation into sultry boudoir, trembling with trepidation, uncertain what will be unleashed, layers fall away from body and mind, embarrassment shed with freefall to floor, walls of inhibition irrevocably breached by engulfing ecstasy and rampant passion, inner core of being ignited, surrendered.
Parallel extended to music, cannot of course be emulated to ultimate on stage consummation; even when protective shell of production is stripped away, smallest Chinese doll must remain unopened, to preserve kernel of private person; but the musicians who really captivate me, are those who dare to undress the most, lay bare frailties, fragilities and fears of human soul; explore divisive dichotomies which possess us all; let loose ancient hippocampus, capitulate to rapture without restraint, while staring into eyes of fear. The Cult is one such band, their music dark chimerical yin and yang, opposing forces inescapably bound together as one, enticing my fascination from first notes and words I heard.
Previously only teased by studio recordings, I looked forward to intensity of more privately personal performance, praying that; promised chemistry would metamorphose from torrid breath on flesh; fantasy would not be destroyed by reality, for my first intimate encounter. Paraphrasing a reviewer who likened another show on this tour to, a series of fast and furious ‘three minute fuck (s)’, I was slightly perturbed and disturbed, anxious in anticipation, fearful that delicious tension between caress and thrust, which fed my Cult lust, would be lost in frenzied furore. I was stupid to worry; born under same configuration of May Northern stars; since 1983 the retrograde planets of Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy; parted only for a few dark side of the moon years; have shone together. Welded from inception by fatal attraction, two sides of the same coin, symbiotic partnership synthesising spirit of Death Cult turned Cult, their antithesis the electromagnetic force which binds its elemental soul, it would take Hadron Collider to shatter such fundamental bonds.
True, the nine albums they have forged together chart change, reflecting wide travel through space, life and musical times, from conception on Merseyside’s Wirral ‘dark side’, and inner city Mancunian Hulme, via multicultural but quintessentially English Bradford, to wider pastures, both Ian and Billy have acquired American twangs. Strangely, musical riffs while retaining same melodic structures, almost imperceptibly also take on accents and intonations, inflecting and influencing each album, but still, inner core, kismet two made one; intriguingly interdependent mix of rampant rock and roll and deeper, troubled soul; remains intact, despite shifting balance of karma. For me, ‘Love’ is violet flame of balanced karma, Ian and Billy in Libra equilibrium, both stars shine with equal luminosity, infinite darkness meets incandescent light. ‘The Cult’ sees Ian in ascendancy, meditative poeticism and introspection allowed free reign, Billy supportively restrained. ‘Electric’, for which this tour is named, leaves less space for reflection, riding on incendiary, heavy rock riffs.
Performed in full, by a line up exuding hypnotic, seductive synergy, inducing constant state of heightened fevered excitation; audience reduced to jelly of shaking legs, dishevelled and unkempt; I did feel that Ian’s contemplative lyricism, darker side which dives through dilated eyes, to deeper solar plexus places, was slightly lost. But this was more than a quick fuck, this was intense shot of hot, electric love, with cigarette break and second set, orgasmic reprise which, though it did not visit sensual mysticism of ‘The Cult’, went to other ‘Love’ places, dipped its finger into honey of ‘Choice of Weapon’, led sweet soul sister to sanctuary and beyond, so read on:
Guests Bo Ningen start the night…as befits The Cult, reversing laws of nature, before their earthquake, there is Tsunami storm; Bo Ningen, whirling dervishes, hurling jagged shards, lightning bolts of titanium rock, electrify a startled, assailed audience. Four stylised, androgynous Ninja manifestations, half girl, half boy, garbed in flowing feminine robes, luxuriant waist length, shellac locks, Yoko Ono veils; only facial hair hints at sex. Japan their spiritual home, London their temporal resting place, like Midori prodigal masters of their art, perfected and honed to razor sharp, heart stopping barrage of sound, extracted from harnessed electricity with transcendental ease, by mortal skeletal limbs of their ‘stick men’ name; supernatural onslaught; mesmeric assault of hard as nails, psychedelic, psycho punk, heavy metal rock. Personifications of characters from ‘Monkey’, each endowed with magical, metaphysical powers, exhaling ectoplasm from elastic maw of banshee waif, breath of dragon in satanic mantra, psychotic lighting accentuating dramatically theatrical poses; meditative martial arts expressed in music of churning guitars, battering drums and preternatural wail, conduit to spirit worlds, opening channel to third eye. Essence of hard rock riffs, focused to laser sharp attack, distilled through prism of Japanese myth and performance art, London its black hole gravitational pull, an exquisite example of how acutely applied accent can mutate familiar musical language, into startlingly original tongue.
This raw, primitive yet sophisticated, extremely controlled sound; stillness at heart of its swirling Tornado epicentre; wrings something gripping and new from notes of what has gone before; thrash rock taken to ultimate pinnacle of perfection. Comments from some in the audience suggest Bo Ningen may be a marmite band; like them or not, impossible to ignore, nor be intrigued; you will certainly hear them coming from a long way off; I for one will be listening out, willing slave to their Ninja beat.
As sprites depart on stormy clouds, audience shell shocked into supplication, almost bows as deities alight, riding boom of sonic wave: The Cult’s Ian Astbury, face framed by jet black slick of Morrison curls, minus leather ‘pulling’ pants, Shamen rabbit around his neck, promises serious affair; protectively flanked by Chris Wyse, Kurt Cobain Nirvana waif, river of deeply flowing bass; Billy Duffy and James Stevenson, guitars aligned in battle pose, gnarled guardian oaks; John Tempesta on drums, watching their backs, Merlin’s wizard cloak.
Even the best surgeon cannot entirely erase lines of time, and for those in the public gaze reluctant acquiescence to age must be more difficult than it is for us ordinary, mirror fearing individuals. Youth leaves its mark on the minds of fans who fell in love with their musical heroes at an early age; so sometimes it is a shock to see them made mortal, many years later. The Cult have not been in cryogenic storage; battered by life, they have physically aged; the angle from which we viewed them, close up with barely a sliver of unused pit between us, combined with harsh lighting, was not most flattering; but things that must be done had been applied with light hand and dignity; still mesmerically magnetising, age has lent them new beauty, experience etched, engrained, adding enigmatic glory.
Musical acuity requires no assistance, wrinkle free, as youthfully intense as ever, despite comfortable familiarity which years together breeds. Relatively new additions, from 2006; Chris Wyse (who played with Jerry Cantrell, Osbourne and Jagger, amongst others; also in ‘Owl’), John Tempesta (previously in ‘Exodus’, ‘Testament’ and ‘White Zombie’); and touring rhythm guitarist, James Stevenson (‘Chelsea’, ‘Generation X’, ‘Gene Loves Jezebel’ and ‘The International Swingers’, amongst others); luminaries themselves, indoctrinated into The Cult, sound entirely integral, essential elemental components of the whole, while exuding individuality; barely drawing breath before unleashing tempest of sound, challenging its limits and speed, riding break neck, full tilt, through ‘Electric’, in galvanising entirety, from beginning to end; except ‘Zap City’, from ‘Peace’ replaces cover of ‘Born To Be Wild’.
At the front, though central, we are not best placed to evaluate neither accuracy nor furiousity of sound system, but we are still blown away, immediately and irrevocably engaged. However, totally inexplicably, despite proximity and potency, merest membrane, diaphanous veil, sliver of ice, inserts itself between audience and inscrutable band; or maybe that was just my inability to entirely dissolve in the heat, which radiated from impassioned performance, sprayed over us in sweat scattered from brow and hair. Or maybe it was striking series of set piece Aerosmith poses, guitars wielded like machine guns, bass groin grinding, pelvis thrusting, legs implacably akimbo, Ian anonymously conspicuous in dark shades; epitome of cool which, at first gives impression of arcane aloofness, except this is The Cult’s own inimitably unique version of heavy rock; steeped in sensibility of Led Zeppelin sensitivity, guitars phenomenally prodigious, potently eloquent, drums prolifically dextrous; guided by light of that star while tracing their own stellar path; Plant’s banshee wail replaced by Goth inner scream, bass deep vein throb, golden thread which binds it all; music which sweeps away pretension; exceptional musicianship and musicality extracting subtly with ease, from what would be mere flash in hands of lesser bands.
By its nature, ‘Electric’ does not afford Ian opportunity to open darker doors, Morrison bubble burst, bludgeoned by joyous sound; those facets of The Cults personality are put to one side for this first set, apart from merest hint of spirit walker shuffle, subsumed in welter of driving riffs, rhythmic struts, stratospheric solos, super slick, sexy bass, tantalising tongue flicks and serious tambourine abuse. In trance of awe, mesmerised, though thrust against barrier by pound of heaving bodies and hearts behind me, the audience takes time to truly warm up. ‘Aphrodisiac Jacket’ stands out, with rat a tat guitars at war, weeping tears over relentless bass, as does churning ‘Electric Ocean’. Shredded guitar, grinding bass and rousing drum frenzy of ‘Bad Fun’, incendiary bass riff and break neck speed of ‘King Contrary Machine’, deep throat bass of ‘Love Removal Machine’, incite excitement which explodes in eruption of pressure relieving pogo to crashing chords of ‘Zap City’; sweeping epic, loquacious guitars in reinforcing octaves, bass deep and dirty, vocal growl riding the throb. Eloquent guitar of ‘Outlaw’ leads into last song of set, ‘Memphis Hip Shake’; until now, barely a bead of sweat has soiled the band’s pristine brows, but as quintessential vocal of this cuckold song; sleazy snake of Doors like tease; slides over melodic line, self possessed imperturbability begins to melt and slip; perfect introduction to second set. Respite is brief, ‘Elemental Light’ video, throb of guttural, vibrating sound, augments anticipation to screaming pitch, so when the band return and ‘Rain’ from ‘Love’ rains down, I am drenched in spit, as word perfect crowd burst into effervescently excitable song. From that moment on, spectators became part of the performance, pummelled and pounded by press of moshing bodies, used as stabiliser, we are transported back to misspent youth, as audience and band truly connect, become one gloriously throbbing, sweaty mess, immersed in cornucopia of classics, distinctive voice and sound full throttle ; ‘Honey From A Knife’ (Choice Of Weapon), ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ (Sonic Temple), ‘Lucifer’(Choice Of Weapon), ‘Embers’(Choice Of Weapon), ‘The Phoenix’ (Love), ‘Rise’ (Beyond Good And Evil), ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ (Love) and for encore: ‘ Horse Nation’ (Dreamtime), ‘Spirit Walker’ (Dreamtime) and ‘Sun King’ (Sonic Temple).
Any remnant of restraint stripped away, cast to wind, even sangfroid bass partly disrobes to irresistibly irrepressible, involuntary frisson of thrill; gloves are off, ready to gorge on orgy of guitar pornography, bacchanal bass, debauched drums and vocal seduction. ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ sweeps to stratosphere on wings of guitar, ‘Lucifer’ devil’s invocation of delightfully distorted bass; vocal at vortex of maelstrom, ‘Embers’ empathetic epitaph to Lou Reed, inspired epiphany of discordant cacophony with angelic yet twisted face; celestial white Gretsch weeps in Billy Duffy’s dextrous hands, sobbing bass heaves, guitars toll warped memorial bell, evocative key change dives deep into emotion that we all need to weep. ‘The Phoenix’ reinforces my love of bass, with devastating deviant effects. ‘Sun King’ drives it deeper with favourite bass line of the night, sensuously sultry and slinky.
A fitting end, preceded by Ian recalling beginnings; humble, impoverished start to his extraordinary journey funded by generosity of anonymous humanity, many moons ago; a few pounds from passing stranger, first small but essential step on his path. A path which led him to our door, to this night, in presence of stars, who though they have scaled stellar heights, remain connected with us disparate mortals below.
Walking home through spitting rain, solitary shadows stalking largely deserted streets, I reflect on what I have heard and seen, spacemen from another dimension beamed up on their space age tour buses, I feel that other worldly wisdom has been imparted. For me music fills many needs, but the music which fulfils me most is that which looks within, and links our solitary interiors to how we interact, how we act and feel, expresses inner doubts and passions, malevolence, magnificence, light and dark. In this The Cult, like Bowie, goes towards satisfying that craving. I am not sure which minds honour us with prescient presence, Ian and Billy opposed yet conjoined forces, in supernatural connection with current line up, form seamless entity; but I do feel their music, rather than complacently reiterating what has gone before, tells a story of continuing curiosity which hasn’t abated; so I look forward to next inspirational instalment.
Catch them while you can, even if you have to travel; it could irrevocably change the colour of your mind.
Review by Chumki Banerjee
Photos by Melanie Smith