*Photo taken by the Rock Chick
I spent today, Sunday, driving across the plains of Kansas on my way back from seeing my daughter in Denver… Well, seeing my daughter and the Cult in Denver. I can tell the pandemic is starting to thaw out a bit as my dance card in Denver was completely full. The last few times I’ve been in Denver we really didn’t go out and do much. It was quality family time. Not so this trip. I was doing something almost constantly. And there was the Cult concert slipped into the middle of the schedule Friday night at the Mission Ballroom for just the Rock Chick and me. I didn’t know much about the Mission Ballroom but it’s a fantastic venue. I’d go back to that place in a heartbeat. Plenty of bars, plenty of bathrooms and not a bad seat in the house. This is one of the few times I’ve seen the Cult and actually had a seat. I didn’t go for my usual General Admission floor tickets this time as typically some hulking mountain of a guy ends up standing in front of the Rock Chick who is considerably less… vertical than I am. There aren’t many people who can block my view. We were excited to be on guitarist Billy Duffy’s side of the stage.
Driving across the fruited plains all day – where there is literally nothing to see – gave me a chance to ponder the show I’d seen Friday while I killed the road time listening to the new Chili Peppers album, Rush’s 40th celebration of Moving Pictures and a few episodes of an old crime podcast… we do love our Murder & Mayhem stories here at B&V. The opening act for the Cult was a band I was unfamiliar with, King Woman (editor’s note: the opener was misidentified in an earlier version as Des Rocs). I’ve seen an interesting array of bands opening for the Cult as I’ve been to over half a dozen Cult shows since 2001. The most entertaining opener was probably Monster Magnet at that first Cult show I saw on the Beyond Good And Evil tour. I seem to recall leather clad dancers on stage. I can’t say King Woman was entertaining at all. I got there mid-set and they were performing without a spotlight on the singer. It was all backlit in red. I couldn’t see the face of the band members but especially the lead singer, a lady to seems pretty angry and she was rolling around on stage in the dark. They ended with a cover of the Stone Roses’ “I Want To Be Adored” that was frankly, unrecognizable.
By 9:40 the Cult came onto the stage. The current line up is Ian Astbury (vocals), Billy Duffy (guitar), John Tempesta (drums), Grant Fitzpatrick (bass) [editor’s note: on bass it may have been Charlie Jones] and inexplicably Damon Fox (keyboards/backing vocals). The Cult definitely don’t need a keyboard player. They used to tour with an extra guitar player which made a lot more sense to me. There are very few things I can count on in life – but the Cult live are one of them. They are always MONEY on stage. The fact these guys always bring it live is one of the reasons I fell in love with the band. I had taken the liberty of glancing at the set list prior to the show and while I didn’t have it memorized – I couldn’t remember what they opened with – I was excited about it. It was front loaded with a bunch of songs from Sonic Temple, probably their most famous, commercially successful album. As I’ve said, I’m so into the Cult I like whatever they play but I missed the tour pre-Covid where they played Sonic Temple in it’s entirety. I was sidelined by a foot injury. I’d previously seen the “complete album shows” for Love and Electric so that was pretty disappointing. While I’d have been quite content if they’d come out and opened with 8 tracks from Hidden City I was glad I was making up for missing that last tour.
Thank god I couldn’t remember what the opener was because I was delighted and surprised when I heard the opening notes of “Sun King.” It’s one of my favorites. After two years of virtually no concerts save for a surprise trip to Starlight Theater to see Joan Jett/Cheap Trick I couldn’t help but think, “Finally!” Immediately the Rock Chick noticed that they sounded off. It took me a few riffs in to realize they sounded a little sluggish. Maybe they need to burn off some of that Covid rust? The Rock Chick also noticed that Ian Astbury’s vocals were a little off as well – he changed out his microphone midway through the main set so I’ll give her credit there. The list was heavily weighted to Sonic Temple. The entire show, save for “Rise” from Beyond Good And Evil was from Love, Electric or Sonic Temple or as some might say “their prime.” Maybe the fact that they aren’t touring behind a new album brought less enthusiasm from the group. Maybe it’s the new bass player and keyboard player. Chemistry in a band is important.
The main issue, upon reflection as I drove through golden fields of wheat spotted with green fields of beans and milo and the requisite rural frightful political signs, might have been as simple as one guy: Billy Duffy. I think Billy is one of those great, underrated guitar Gods out there. Although I have to say, he seemed bored. He wasn’t terribly engaged. Or maybe he’s just always sounded better with a second guitarist on stage with him. I was on his side of the stage and he almost seemed distracted. He kept looking up toward the balcony seats, just to our lright. We were on his side, only 2 sections out from the stage. The Rock Chick says I’m crazy but at first I thought he was looking up at the giant stack of speakers floating above his head like he was afraid they were going to fall. His guitar was loud and he plays powerfully but he was just playing slower than usual. Tom Petty always called live albums “playing your greatest hits really fast.” This was the opposite of that.
As I said, they opened with a bunch of Sonic Temple tracks. The only track that the keyboard player really had an impact on – to my ears anyway – was “Sweet Soul Sister.” It was nice to have the organ. They had a little mellow breakdown in the middle where Ian addressed the crowd. He was referencing psychedelics, perhaps inspired by Colorado’s pot laws. He told a guy in the front row “Hey man, you can’t text from the front row… you’re in the front row that comes with certain responsibilities,” which I thought was funny. At one time he exhorted the crowd to “Smoke em if you got em.” He also said something about the people filming the show on their phones, calling them out as “Kurosawa, Speilberg and Coppola.” Hey man, if you’re not used to being filmed at this point, I’ve got bad news for you. I mean, I get it. I shake my head at people at a concert who experience it through their phones. I took maybe 3 pictures and put my phone on mute and into my pocket.
Despite that seemingly slightly hostile banter, I have to say Astbury was on fire that night. It’s like he sensed the rest of the band was sluggish and he was determined to put them on his shoulders and carry them through the night. He is one of the best front men and singers in the business. What a voice! He moved around the stage like a man half his age. He’s always active but I hadn’t seen him move that much on stage since the first few Cult shows I saw over 20 years ago. He looked lean and very into it. He gave out his sole tambourine to a kid near the stage who he called “Youngblood” because the kid had a Pink Floyd The Wall t-shirt on. “We’ve gotta teach these youngbloods right!”
As the band slogged through the Sonic Temple material and Astbury tried to pump them up, they hit a high point on “Edie (Ciao Baby).” That ballad soared. I will admit that when they shifted to some of the songs on Electric the band got better – in my opinion, this is disputed by the Rock Chick. “Li’l Devil” was a track where I felt everything clicked for the band. It was a real highlight. They followed that up with two more great tracks from Electric, “Peace Dog” and “Wildflower” which were also highlights. The Love material at the end of the set was also great and included a rocking version “Rain” and “Revolution,” a track Astbury described as “more relevant now than ever.” I love “She Sells Sanctuary” but it did miss that second guitarist.
The main set ended with “Love Removal Machine” another knock out moment of the night. The Electric stuff just sounded better but then as my friend Stormin’ said to me once, “I’m an Electric guy.” I was thrilled that “Rise,” one of their most underrated songs from the late career resurgence, made it into the encore. As I said, it’s the only non Love-Electric-Sonic Temple track they played. In retrospect I’d have liked to hear “Dirty Little Rock Star” or “For The Animals” just to break it up a bit. Maybe they could have thrown in Hidden City’s “Hinterland.” But I’m probably splitting hairs. The faithful, myself included, still went nuts for the final track, a rousing “Fire Woman.” It was so good to be in a crowd, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, sharing that communal, ecstatic moment during a concert.
And with that the night was over. While it was a bit of a disappointing show, I’d still go see the Cult again. I’d like to see them on this tour again actually. I just think I caught Billy Duffy on a bad night. But it was still made special by Ian Astbury absolutely bringing his A game. As I am fond of saying, Life is short, buy the ticket, see the show.