The Cult Still Recruiting Followers

It’s easy to expect a band that broke onto the airwaves almost 30 years ago to be running out of steam by this point. I’m not even 30 myself and I’m running out of steam! Last Wednesday at the Commodore, The Cult strutted onto the stage and shattered any such naive preconceptions.

Other than a brief lapse from 1995 to 1998, Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy have been leading The Cult since the early ‘80s. Chris Wyse (bass) and John Tempesta (drums) have only been around since 2006, but six years is apparently more than enough time for these four men to meld their aspirations and talents together and achieve what I can only describe as a truly impressive and genuine cohesion.

The Cult walked on a bit before 10:30 p.m. and, following a Native American-themed drum-pounding intro, promptly churned out a few cuts off their latest album, Choice of Weapon (which, I must say, has unexpectedly grown on me quite a bit over the last few weeks). It was nice to see Astbury’s confidence and sense of style very much intact as he walked around his playing field with purpose, tambourine in hand, bedecked of a dark jean jacket with a huge, fur-lined hood.

The second song, “For The Animals”, was a standard, straight-up rocker that found the foursome in fine rock form. Not bad – two songs in, and seemingly clicking on all cylinders already. But don’t get too excited yet, because listen… here comes the “Rain”. My lord I love this song. It’s not even nostalgia – I was all of three years old when this came out. It’s just what rock should be, you know? Memorable verses, an absolutely unforgettable chorus, a rising bridge, and riffs and rhythms that all mix together to make one beast of a tune. I’ve been shouting “Here comes the raaaiiin!” as I walk Vancouver’s streets (in various states) these last few nights. I can’t get it out of my head. If, for some reason, there were any lingering doubts about The Cult’s mojo after the first few tunes, “Rain” put the kybosh on them. “The Wolf” kept up the chase with its classic Cult chorus riff and verses punctuated with chunky, modern guitar.

By mid-set, fans were right back in the ‘80s at the rock show, beer in hand, hand in air, and rock’n’roll between the ears. “It is a fucking absolute joy and pleasure to have crossed that border,” Astbury said, as he went on to describe how Canada had over the years become a second home. The feisty Astbury went on to put some fussy fans in their place after the next tune: “It’s a rock and roll show, you’re in the front, you’re gonna get pushed… Fuck!” He went on to explain that if you happen to get a finger in the ass in the process, consider it a bonus. Thank you… Ian… Astbury. I’m so tired of alleged “rock” frontmen stopping shows to calm down hard rockers that are bumping around on the floor. Finally… finally, I hear a rocker tell the fans what’s what and if they can’t take the heat, they need to get the hell out. Since when is rock’n’roll supposed to be civilized?

The gang played a number of other new tracks (“Embers”, “Lucifer”) which prompted an appreciative and courteous response from the crowd, never failing to throw in a classic song in there to spike the energy. Astbury prefaced “Fire Woman” with an adlib version of a Guess Who classic/national anthem – “Canadian women… stay away from me…” One of these Canadian women near the front was lucky and able enough to snatch the tambourine out of the air as Ian tossed it into the crowd. She didn’t stop banging that thing until the very end. Well done, sweet soul sister.

The set wrapped up on a high note with “Honey from a Knife”, a fast rocker with big riffs, handclaps, and group chants (“We got the drugs / We got the drugs / We got the drugs, the drugs in here!”), and then, finally – sweet satisfaction – “She Sells Sanctuary”. I won’t bother gushing about how iconic and remarkable this song is. You know it all already. And if you don’t – get on it, kid. This is Rock 101 kind of stuff. Astbury let his ponytailed hair down for this last one, carefully spreading his mane around his face just so, as he belted out one of the songs that defined a generation. The man’s pipes are in truly fantastic shape.

After a quick 60-second walk-off, the guys returned for the mandatory encore, starting off with the woefully forgettable “Life > Death”. Astbury mentioned that this song is “as naked as they get”; if that’s the case, they should really consider keeping their fashionable, furry denim clothing on at all times. Next!

That minor lowlight was quickly eclipsed by “Spiritwalker” and its driving bass, ringing guitars and Astbury’s soulful cries; just another example of what that “Cult sound” is – “She Sells Sanctuary”, “Rain”, “Spiritwalker”, and “Love Removal Machine”, which they played last. For an already great show, this last tune was one of the hottest of the night, what with Duffy’s extraordinary shredding, and a pedal-to-the-metal finish which had most of us singing along “Look out, here she comes!” The “Machine” came to a stop and the guys gave us all a wave, much love and thanks. Astbury left the stage, but not before praising this fine city’s fine rock fans – “In the fucking pit! Vancouver, BC! Recognize!”

Before Wednesday night, I was a rather uninformed, pretty non-committal “fan” of The Cult. By midnight, I had willingly, greedily drunk the Kool-Aid. Where have I been this whole time? Welcome to The Cult, me.

“Here comes the raaaiiin…”