The Cult Gains New Followers in New Bedford
NEW BEDFORD — They say you should never meet your heroes. But Tuesday night at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, I finally had the chance to see The Cult live on stage, and I'm drinking their Kool-Aid now more than ever.
For most of my life, I'd seen videos of The Cult on MTV (insert obligatory remember-when-MTV-played-videos lament here), then later on VH-1, and nowadays on YouTube. I was instantly struck by singer Ian Astbury's slick moves that seemingly were the reincarnation of Jim Morrison, had Astbury not been born almost a decade before Mr. Mojo Risin' failed to rise from the bathtub, as well as the infectious tonality of Billy Duffy's searing guitar riffs adding the groove.
I spent my middle school years at a time (and in a town) when hip hop was still a bit of a novelty, so when we had a school dance, we danced to rock songs. And The Cult were always favorites, because they had a funky underscore to the blistering rock to which you could actually move.
At first entrance into the Z on Tuesday evening, I was hit with the sudden realization that the music I grew up loving is now officially in the pantheon of "classic rock." The crowd sported more eyeglasses than sunglasses, more sweatpants than leather pants, and their mullets still maintained the party in the back, even if the business in the front had long since closed up shop years before. Even the familiar smell of now-legal (but still not allowed inside the Z, you outlaw concertgoers!) marijuana was undercut with undertones of Ben Gay applied liberally to loosen up the dormant dancing muscles.
But a funny thing happened upon gazing across the Z's auditorium--there was also a large number of young people, and just not just those in their 20s or even their teens. There were young children in attendance, one of whom even presented Astbury with a homemade card that seemed to genuinely touch the front man. The future of rock music is secure if this younger generation is still savvy to legends like The Cult.
Astbury has made no bones over the years about the fact that he was directly influenced to become a rock singer by hearing The Doors' "The End," so it's no surprise that a Doors live album played as the road crew set the stage for The Cult. Following "The End" playing over the theater PA system, the band hit the stage at precisely 9 p.m. to raucous sounds of "Wild Flower," before launching into the first song that might be recognizable to a casual fan, "Rain."
Despite Astbury being a world-traveler in his youth--born in England, he also lived in Canada and Scotland before making it big--the underscoring theme of The Cult's music has always been Native American tribes, and it was certainly present in the set list Tuesday night. Songs like "Dark Energy" and "Spirit Walker" reinforced this. One can only wonder what music the band could compose if they could spend some time with the local Wampanoags.
The Cult was ostensibly in the Secret City to promote their latest album, Hidden City. The aforementioned "Dark Energy" was one of four songs from the new album that made the 17-song set list, but they mixed in with perfect sonic unison with the classics.
Astbury may not move around with the snake-like slither he had in the 80s, but his voice is still just as strong as ever. The crowd was more than happy to help with some backup vocals, though.
About halfway through the set, someone from the crowd yelled to Astbury that he should say something political, likely on the heels of President Donald Trump firing FBI Director James Comey earlier that day. Astbury declined, saying "Politics don't belong in this house," before launching right back into straight-ahead rock and roll.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the opening set was a four-song stretch just prior to the pre-encore break that kicked off with "Sweet Soul Sister" and "Fire Woman" from the album Sonic Temple, followed by the sonic acid trip of "The Phoenix" and then wrapping up with "She Sells Sanctuary," both off Love.
After a brief break, the band returned for the crowd-pleasing "Peace Dog" and "GOAT," before launching into the finale, the big hit "Love Removal Machine." But there was no removing the love the crowd had for The Cult (or that Astbury professed for both the audience and the venue, which he praised multiple times) as the show came to a rocking end.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the Zeiterion is an amazing place to catch a rock show. The only other performance I'd seen there was "Weird Al" Yankovic about a decade ago, and while that show was fantastic, it's definitely different than a straight-up rock show. But with stadium-style lighting and incredible sound--and also due to the fact that every seat in the Z is a great one--this place should be on every rock fan's bucket list. It was also a bonus that I zipped right out of my parking spot moments after the show, something you'll never find in Boston or Providence.
Opening act The Vowws played about a half-hour set featuring electronic music that had a deciding monotone sound. It stood in stark contrast to the funky rock of The Cult, but fit in with the idea of pushing the boundaries of what rock and roll can and should be.