The Cult played a full house at Melbourne’s grand concert hall, The Palais on the St Kilda foreshore, tonight, and it was everything I hoped it would be from the seminal ’80s rockers. Their music has filled many a mile of lonesome highway and provided a backdrop to plenty of get-togethers, so to see Ian Astbury strutting his stuff alongside guitarist Billy Duffy was just magic after all these years.
Astbury, still wielding one of the most distinctive voices in rock, wore black: black pants, shirt, jacket, gloves, sunnies. From my seat in the back row — and how well is the Palais designed, with its sloping floor and staggered seats, so the view was still phenomenal — he looked a little fuller in the face than in the band’s heyday, kind of a melding of, say, Jeff Martin and Bill Oddie, and of course a touch of Jim Morrison, whose swaggering shoes he’d filled out the front of the Riders on the Storm (the Doors tribute band, featuring members of the Doors) (I think I can get away with that gentle jibe, given the Cult’s roster has rotated around Astbury and Duffy).
At least he wasn’t hidden under a hoodie ($100 at the merch stand — men’s thin cotton tees $50, women’s $55) as he was in Brisbane.
Duffy looked remarkably unchanged, still playing his trusty Gretsch White Falcon (“the whole Love album is played on a Gretsch, it was the only guitar I owned’), given a rest only in the second set for a couple of ‘heavier’ numbers from the group’s later and largely ignored albums.
While Astbury didn’t scramble over the rather depleted Marshall stacks nor writhe upon the floor as in clips from the days of yore, he did groove, he did yarn, he did flick that long black hair, he did chuck the mic when it played up and he did give the tambourine a bloody great hiding: the heart of soul was still beating.
The band played two sets: the first consisted of the entire Love album, their breakthrough album from 1985 featuring singles Rain, Revolution and the Goth club favourite, She Sells Sanctuary (big cheers from the crowd for this one!). It took about an hour, the concert lit with basic lighting and a big screen of complementary video.
The second set, slightly shorter, was a ‘best of’ that wowed the crowd, hitting a slight lull during songs from Beyond Good and Evil and Born Into This (the latter album deserved more attention, IMHO), before ending on a wicked high with Fire Woman and Love Removal Machine. As Astbury said, they don’t play ‘pretentious’ encores, and after that set, it would’ve been superfluous anyway. (And encores are a bit wanky, aren’t they? They’re expected now, formula, no longer an accolade for the deserving.) The sunglasses had come off for the second set, so he could kind of get away with poking fun at pretension.
Earlier, Astbury, still showing a bit of an 80s touch with critters’ bushy tails hanging from his belt — the kind of thing you’d expect to see flapping from a bogan’s car antenna or perhaps wrapped around an elder Lady’s neck, its little black eyes staring at you from beside her bejeweled brooch and powdered cleavage — remarked how rock concerts weren’t as intense as they used to be. No ripping up of seats. In the US, he said, the audience tended to stay seated. Not so in Melbourne, though he did poke fun at a few who somehow defied the driving rhythm section. And at the time I thought he was coming across as a bit of an old whiner, harking back to the good old days. But then, as the phones came out and the texting and the tweeting took off, and the bint next to us insisted on flashing off her camera every three bars or so for the entire duration of the song, I realised he was actually quite right. It’s not enough to be there, headbanging with the thrill of hearing Astbury scream out Wildflower (though this take tonight was a little muddy, to be honest); you’ve got to take pictures of your pals during the song. You’ve got to let everyone know RIGHT NOW that you’re there. That’s if you’re not noodling off to the bar and missing it entirely. Dangerous ground for a man now blogging his rapturous headbanging experience? Maybe.
Bottom line is this: The Cult came, they rocked, it was awesome. (Andy, I wish you could’ve been there, brother.)
I’d be tempted to hit tonight’s gig at The Palace, if I wasn’t gonna be elsewhere.
PS Sydney’s Black Ryder supported, and also looked pretty good, and sounded just fine, though I regrettably missed most of their set, having been in line for the slightly over-priced but very fetching Cult merch. I hope they have more tricks up their sleeve than the fuzzy guitar.
Foodie aside: before the gig, we hit amigos and got fired up on cajun chicken burritos and extra jalapenos, washed down with Crushed Fairy cocktails (key ingredient: absinthe) and Sol beer. Rockin! I love the way you can walk down these cafe streets in this town and just pick one, and find it sweet.