From their underground post punk/goth rock early years, to the classic rock inspired late 80’s stadium filling years, onto the poorly received 90’s albums, the disbanding, reforming and recent slew of albums and touring, The Cult’s journey has been a rocky one for Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy, but they are still here releasing quality music and touring The Cult back catalogue to their hearts content. While The Cult peaked commercially in 1989, they remain a big draw on both sides of the pond. Last year they completed a co-headline tour with Alice Cooper in the UK and across North America with BRMC.
Riding on the release of last year’s moody and ethereal ‘Under The Midnight Sun’ the Cult play a trio of outdoor theatre shows bringing their old touring buddies The Mission on board, culminating in a night by the seaside at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.
The Mission have done the success/hiatus/resurgence thing as much as any other 80’s band, and with original members Craig Adams and Simon Hinkler back in the line up with frontman Wayne Hussey, they remain a solid live draw who gain critical acclaim wherever they go.
Tonight’s support set on a big stage is a stark contrast to my last encounter with this band. A sold out, epic 2 set marathon at a 300-capacity club at The Crescent Working Man’s Club in York last summer. It was probably the hottest gig I have ever been to. Tonight, as I stand watching the band crank out ‘Tower Of Strength’ to a backdrop of looming grey Yorkshire skies, I am thinking it was a bad decision to not bring a jacket!
The band are suitably attired in black. Led by a fully suited and booted Wayne Hussey, a bone white 12 string dangling at his hips, shades ever present, his dulcet tones filling the early evening air. Two fans are already atop shoulders making shapes at the singer, as he leads his band through a set of sublime goth rock hits. Yet, if you are oblivious to the band’s discography it probably seems a bit lost in the cold air of this theatre to be honest. While there is no denying the power of the likes of ‘Severina’, ‘Beyond The Pale’ and ‘Garden Of Delight’, the ethereal beauty of ‘Butterfly On A Wheel’ seems to lose something in the vast expanse of this open-air theatre. Even the obligatory confetti throw during ‘Wastelands’ seems a tad lackluster in daylight hours. Maybe Goth rock really does work better when the sun goes down.
That said, a killer cover of the Stooges ‘1969’ and the closer ‘Deliverance’ sound as powerful as I could have hoped, but overall The Mission were nowhere near as epic as the band I saw this time last year in a hot and sweaty club.
The skies are darkening, the rain has held off and the air is filled with the scent of dry ice and incense as The Cult take to the stage to great cheers. Grungy opener ‘Rise’ from 2001 album ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ is a welcome surprise. Dressed like a gothic-tinged eastern Shamen, Ian Astbury looks fitter than his years would suggest, and his voice is still as powerful as it ever was. To his left Billy Duffy, his hair and beard grown out, looks every inch the LA biker he has become, and with his Les Paul dangling from his knees and that killer tone, well… how could The Cult fail to excite tonight?
As they are promoting a new record, I wasn’t sure what sort of set we were to get, but with only 2 off the new record covered (‘Vendetta X’ & ‘Mirror’), a deep dive into ‘Electric’ and pretty much skipping anything post 1989 it was a dream set as far as I was concerned. The band were certainly on it tonight. ‘Sun King’ and ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ are played early and sound great. An extended and jammed out version of ‘The Witch’ sounds sublime and is a welcome highlight for me, but as ‘Electric’ remains not just my favourite Cult album but one of my favourite albums of all time, it is those songs that excite me the most tonight.
It has been said that Ian Astbury is a wild card frontman, like Bobby Gillespie or even Van Morrison, you never know what mood he’s going to be in or how he will react. He teases and goads the crowd throughout, calling the defiant chants of ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire!” unoriginal, criticizing the Stella Artois drinking antics and generally being a moody sod, but he’s animated, pulls all the rock star poses and his voice is on it all night.
‘King Contrary Man’, ‘Aphrodisiac Jacket’ and ‘Lil Devil’ sound amazing. C’mon, those riffs left my jaw on the floor when I first heard them as an excited teen and tonight takes me right back to those same feelings. Astbury, Duffy and the band deliver a full force rock machine and those songs sound sublime.
The crowd go mental for the obligatory one-two-three set closer of ‘Spiritwalker’, ‘Rain’ and ‘She Sells Sanctuary’. How could you not lose your shit to that sonic assault on the senses?
There’s an encore to be had, but what the hell haven’t they played? An Electric double dose of ‘Peace Dog’ and ‘Love Removal Machine’ gives the drunk and excited down the front one last chance to brave the mosh pit before the band disappear into the night and we head to the car park to beat the rush for the A64 home.
The Cult sealed their place in rock history many moons ago with a string of hits to match any of their contemporaries. Tonight, Astbury and Duffy led their band through a killer set of classics that energised the night sky across Yorkshire. With a recently released strong album and a killer band behind them, The Cult sound as vital and fresh in 2023 as they did back in 1989.
The Cult were truly on fire tonight, they’ll be back before the year is out, miss them and you’re missing out.
Author: Ben Hughes