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The Cult in New York City: Concert Review

Ian Astbury of The Cult
Elizabeth Ramanand

The Bottom Line

The double bill of Against Me! and The Cult brings the heat.

Venue
Terminal 5,
New York City
(Friday, June 8)

The veteran quintet mixes new songs from 'Choice of Weapon' with fiery oldies after an opening set by Against Me!

It’s been three years since The Cult played New York City, and Friday night they returned with a vengeance. Of the many area venues the band has played over the years, Terminal 5 is a good fit; with a large wide stage, a sweeping floor and tiers of balconies wrapping around the room, it recalls the former Limelight, invoking the spirit of New York when rock music was a staple of nightlife.

The Cult always draws a diverse audience, and this night was no different as a capacity crowd of goths, rockers and hipsters gathered in communion for rock ’n’ roll church.

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Rap music blasted over the PA, incongruously, as people stared upward, curiously listening to Kanye West’s “Power.” The band hit the stage at 10:30 as Billy Duffy clutched his signature Gretsch White Falcon and tore into the blistering riff of "Lil' Devil" to the cheering delight of the crowd. The room swelled, as people on the floor surged forward when Ian Astbury appeared and started singing. Up in the VIP section, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Paz de la Huerta, Yul Vasquez and David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick looked on.

A menacing tyrant of cool, Astbury glowered at the crowd as he moved around the stage. He was in excellent voice all night; whatever vices he might have indulged in, which troubled him in the past, were well behind him Friday. Duffy held fast, with the élan of a John Woo killer, all spiked-hair and dressed in black.

Promoting the new album Choice of Weapon (Cooking Vinyl), The Cult called in “Honey From a Knife,” which kept the energy strong with a welcome punk thunder that the band hasn’t brought in years. The group moved between old and new material, mixing in new stuff with almost every other song.

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One thing particularly notable about Choice of Weapon is that Astbury no longer writes songs about women and fire, eschewing carnal indulgences for poetic reflections on life and the state of the world.  Which is not to suggest that the band has lost its swagger. New single “For the Animals” is a scorcher, and the crowd felt the heat.

A big part of The Cult’s energy can be attributed to the fact that this is the first steady lineup they’ve had in years. The Cult has pretty much been Astbury/Duffy and various heroes for hire. With drummer John Tempesta, bassist Chris Wyse and touring guitarist Mike Dimkich, The Cult has been a fully realized band for over six years now, and it shows in the enthusiastic way they interact onstage.

The Cult closed with the mandatory “She Sells Sanctuary” before returning with the 1984 gem, “Horse Nation” (from Dreamtime) and finishing with “Love Removal Machine.” While the set list might not have satisfied die-hards (no “Sweet Soul Sister?”), they conspicuously did not play a favorite that many people expected: “New York City.”

Against Me! Opened the night and set the tone with a slew of high-energy punk that raised temperatures in the club. Drummer Jay Weinberg, son of legendary Springsteen drummer Max Weinberg, was furious monster of instrument abuse that could not be stopped. Singer Tom Gabel’s recent news-making decision to come out as a transgender, now to be known as Laura Jane Grace, might have cocked a few eyebrows, but in New York City, no one really cares.

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The crowd just wanted them to rock -- and from the new Transgender Dysphoria Blues, to the old, “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” Laura and company did just that. The night was made extra-special with the guest appearance of Joan Jett, who joined Grace for a cover of The Replacements’ “Androgynous.”

The Cult set list:

Lil Devil

Honey From a Knife

Rain

Lucifer

Nirvana

Embers

Fire Woman

The Wolf

Wildflower

Phoenix

For the Animals

Spirit Walker

She Sells Sanctuary

Encore:

Horse Nation

Love Removal Machine