The Cult at Varsity Theater, 8/6/13

The Cult at Varsity Theater, 8/6/13
Photo courtesy of the artist

The Cult
with White Hills
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis

As the Cult took the stage and got down to the business at hand, Robert De Niro's voice echoed through the Varsity. It was his monologue as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver -- "Someday a real rain will come and wash the scum off these streets." The words were frighteningly detached and determined as they were some 37 years ago, as well as being unsettlingly accurate, given the weather Tuesday night.

The Cult are touring behind 1987's Electric, playing it front-to-back each night -- save for the fairly awful cover of "Born to Be Wild", which they've wisely replaced in the set list with the lively, punk-infused B-side "Zap City" from 1988's Manor Sessions EP -- as well as offering up a smattering of songs from much of their early catalog. It was definitely a walk down memory lane, the question was, after getting through the known quantity, how would the rest of the night play out? The answers would come soon enough.

The band ripped into Electric's opener, "Wild Flower," and from there, the band, especially the usually talkative lead singer Ian Astbury, had very little to say from stage. By the time guitarist Billy Duffy unleashed the opening riff of "Lil' Devil," the album's third track, the Cult had hit its stride and went galloping full force through the rest of the album's formidable, intoxicating track list. Hearing it live, it seems the band was smart enough in 1987 to have employed an offbeat producer (Rick Rubin) to create a unique album that didn't exist inside any one genre. Instead of trying to exist in the hard rock/heavy metal vacuum, it simply created its own trajectory, leaving a wake behind it for others to follow. The songs on Electric, almost without exception, seem forged out of the sturdiest parts of the edgier material being produced in the early to mid-'80s. Incapable of rusting and showing few signs of wear, even in the most commonly traversed areas.

"Aphrodisiac Jacket" rumbled by as the Electric portion of the evening approached its midpoint, as well as "Electric Ocean" (most, if not all, of the songs have the word "electric" in the lyrics, if not the title) and "Bad Fun." Shortly thereafter, "Love Removal Machine," one of the band's signature songs, came along, and though Astbury began having trouble with his in-ear monitor, the song went off without a hitch and "Zap City" followed as the band put down the landing gear for part one.

"Outlaw," a low point for the album (and the Electric set, sadly) sort of meandered by somehow but the band redeemed themselves quickly with the closer "Memphis Hip Shake, " of which they played a slightly extended version, Astbury beginning to get a bit more talkative, introducing the band and offering at the end, "There was Electric. 38:27 in all it's glory. We'll be back in a few minutes."


What functioned as part two for the evening started out very promising with "Rain" from 1985's Love and "Honey from a Knife" from last year's Choice of Weapon but as the second half moved along, it started to become fairly snoozy, with odd song choices from all over their catalog. The combo of "Embers," "Phoenix" and "Rise," -- while looking like a clever little story next to each other on paper -- had the set on life support by the end of the short detour. Astbury got more talkative, joking/lamenting getting older was a common topic and as they wrapped up the proper set with a phenomenal version of "She Sells Sanctuary," it rendered the second half merely uneven rather than a complete misstep.

They elevated it a bit more with the two-song encore, before which Astbury had politely added, "If you want to hear more music, please let us know. Thank you so much." The audience certainly did want to hear a bit more ("Fire Woman" hadn't been played yet, though it wouldn't be), and "Spiritwalker" and the odd "Sun King" put a final stamp on the night.

The "tale of two sets" structure of the night had proven not to be as fun as it could have been and the absence of "Fire Woman," though the reason for it's omission was glaringly obvious, was still a small letdown. The band had largely stayed away from Sonic Temple, however, which could be a clue that this playing-a-full-album business isn't quite over for the band. People may get a bit more of what they want next time.

Critic's Bias: I was a second-wave fan of the Cult, meaning I latched on to them in the metal years of MTV. When I think of them, I think of the opening few seconds of "Fire Woman," Billy Duffy looking just as he does on the cover of Sonic Temple. Though I know logically they have better material -- Electric inarguably being the best -- I missed not having much of the former album in the set.

The Crowd: Full of first-wave fans and skewed male, though there were plenty of women, too. In his time, Ian Astbury was quite the sex symbol for a good portion of the female music heads.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Pretty awesome to be 18 again, I guess," from a forty-something guy, ducking behind two of his buddies to take a few drags off of a cigarette, which seemed like a lot of work but it was crowded and we were near the front of the stage.

Notebook Dump: I understand the desire to keep it interesting, but the second half of this show is slowly becoming Minnesota-style "interesting."

Set List:
Wild Flower
Peace Dog
Lil' Devil
Aphrodisiac Jacket
Electric Ocean
Bad Fun
King Contrary Man
Love Removal Machine
Zap City
Memphis Hip Shake
Honey From a Knife
Sweet Soul Sister
For the Animals
She Sells Sanctuary

Sun King

See Also:
Summer Set announces full 2013 schedule
The Red Sea on Craigslist: A tug of war between venues and artists

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