Live Reviews Music

The Cult rebuild a Sonic Temple

Sonic Temple isn’t just The Cult’s highest-charting album (#3 in the UK, #10 in the US). It’s the one that gave them three bonafide Top 40 hits that they still play almost every night.

It’s the one that saw them double down on the all-out rock approach of predecessor Electric and (with titles like New York City and American Horse) take a big swing at the American market. It’s the one that convinced Metallica to hire producer Bob Rock.

It’s the one that, guitarist Billy Duffy told Louder, “was about one thing, being loud and proud. We were unapologetic about it. We still are.”

It’s also the one that’s turned 30 this year, so there’s the expected reissue (including a 53-track five-disc box set). There’s an accompanying anniversary tour too, but the band aren’t just playing the whole thing (including inevitable filler tracks) from start to finish, or “treating” diehard completists to era-specific B-sides that were rarities for a reason.

Instead Duffy and mercurial singer Ian Astbury have slipped the LP’s eight strongest tracks (sorry, no Soldier Blue or Wake Up Time For Freedom) into a set stuffed with highlights of their first two decades.

The scale of Physical Graffiti-style rock epic Sun King is matched by the knuckle-dragging riffing of 1987’s Wildflower and sensational swagger of the Stones-on-steroids Automatic Blues.

American Horse is the moment of spiritual enlightenment that follows when their goth roots met their stadium aspirations. Sweet Soul Sister will forever sound as though it should have been as big a hit as Sweet Child O’ Mine. And New York City is still every bit as relentless as the place it’s named after.

Offering a brief breather Edie (Ciao Baby) is the closest The Cult ever got to writing and recording a power ballad, especially with the accompaniment from the Leos String Quartet it gets at the Eventim Apollo tonight. The four classical musicians stay on for the monumental Soul Asylum as Astbury declares: “Look at us, all grown up.”

Somewhat ironically then it’s almost back to the beginning as Duffy plays the chiming opening chords of Rain, from breakout album Love, with the same flair as he did back in 1985. Spiritwalker, the title track of their debut album, goes back even further still, but monster drummer John Tempesta and bass beast Grant Fitzpatrick barely break a sweat as they groove through one of the band’s fastest songs.

Fire, which finds Duffy briefly transformed into Jimi Hendrix, keeps the bpm (and temperature) up. Rise, from Beyond Good And Evil, offers little respite as Astbury rises to the challenge of overpowering the gritty rocker’s jagged edges.

American Gothic, also from the 2001 LP, is just as crunchy and gives the frontman even more chance to show off his range – from almost-spoken growl to ’70s rock god – while keyboard player Damon Fox harmonises in the background.

The goodtime Fire Woman is a rock ‘n rolling return to the album we’re here to celebrate, before Love Removal Machine mines the great lost AC/DC riff to bring the main set to a euphoric end. The euphoria is maintained as a punchy Lil’ Devil kicks off the encore, and finally escalates into full-blown ecstacy with the jangly guitar opening of She Sells Sanctuary. But, even in the dying moments of the show, the musicians refuse to be upstaged by the crowd erupting en masse.

Astbury, as he has throughout the night, barely stands still. Even behind the microphone, he’s in perpetual motion, his feet stepping from side to side, one free hand shaking the living daylights out of a tambourine or maracas. And when freed of the mic stand he keeps knocking over, the singer in suit and sunglasses as dark as his flowing hair is even less restrained. He’s far too dignified to roll on the floor, but isn’t averse to prowling like a panther on the hunt, jumping onto the drum riser, and swinging his microphone like Roger Daltrey.

Duffy – in jeans, T-shirt, and leather jacket (all black of course) – is far more subdued but no less magnetic. He’s not one for lead guitarist preening, instead planting himself firmly behind his pedal board while effortlessly playing chunky riffs, raging solos, or feedback psychedelics.

Occasionally he’ll put a foot up on an amp, hold his Gibson Les Paul or Gretsch White Falcon at a 90-degree angle during a particularly impressive run of notes, or even throw in a Pete Townshend windmill when feeling as unapologetically loud and proud as Astbury.

Review of The Cult at Eventim Apollo on 27th October 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Simon Reed.

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