LIVE REPORT: The Cult & The Mission
, September 19th, 2012 10:08
Julian Marszalek finds an invigorated Cult are defying the ageing process
Walking through the doors of The Swan – the pre-gig pub of choice in Hammersmith back in the day – is not unlike taking part in some twisted rock’n’roll version of Irwin Allen’s classic 60s TV series The Time Tunnel. The attire is predominantly black; Sisters Of Mercy T-shirts of varying vintage ranging from 1984’s Black October tour through to the Reading ’91 model are all present and correct, inappropriate leather jackets worn in the late summer are causing unnecessary perspiration and the horrendous stench of patchouli that wafts through the air makes a convincing case for re-introducing smoking in pubs.
It’s just like 1987 all over again. Except balder.
The gathering of the faithful has been precipitated by the pairing of The Cult and The Mission, a line-up last seen together around 26 years ago. The Mission were then starting out in the wake of the fall-out of the demise of The Sisters Of Mercy while The Cult were about to fly even further in the face of fashion with a total embrace of rock having already caused much horror among the taste makers of the day thanks to the paisley-coloured joys of Love.
But it’s also an evening that’s been overshadowed by two almost comical factors that could have come straight from Spinal Tap. Proposed show openers Killing Joke pulled out from the tour for reasons that still remain murky and the venue was downsized from the cavernous environs of the Wembley Arena to the more intimate surroundings of the Hammersmith Apollo.
Jaz Coleman may have been found in the desert doing whatever it is he does in the desert but there was no persuading him back. Which is why A3 sheets of paper, stuck to the venue doors, inform the black-clad masses that, due to Killing Joke’s absence, both The Mission and The Cult will be playing extended sets.
The Mission is a band of singular talents, chief among them making the first 20 minutes of their extended set seem likes it’s been extended into next week; you can almost picture comedian Kevin
Bridges pointing at his watch by the side of the stage as he waits to start his three-night stint at the end of the month. By the time they reach ‘Wasteland’ some 35 minutes later, chins are being rubbed to make sure that the five o’clock shadow from earlier hasn’t grown into a Brian Blessed tribute beard.
Not that this comes as any real surprise. The Mission have made one song go very far under different names on a single formula: arpeggiated 12-string guitar + 6-string guitar x chorus/phasers/flangers set to kill ÷ rumbling bass x mentions of fairy queens/meaningless religious imagery/any old hippy-dippy shit that sounds great after a few joints = 'Beyond The Pale'/'Deliverence'/'Butterfly On A Wheel' and pretty much whatever else they play. Even Stevie Nicks would be embarrassed to sing this guff. On the plus side – and yes, there is one - bassist Craig Adams makes a damn fine fist of covering Julianne Regan’s high-pitched wail during ‘Severina’ and the prospect of him covering ‘Martha’s Harbour’ is positively mouthwatering.
The Cult, on the other hand, are a revelation. Hot on the heels of releasing their best album to date in the form of the wonderfully sleek and streamlined Choice Of Weapon – and how many bands this far down the line can you say that about? – The Cult is a band that not only understands the inherent majesty and stupidity of balls-out rock but embraces it too. In Ian Astbury, The Cult has a frontman prepared to walk the precarious tightrope that divides passionate sincerity and all the comical stereotypes that has the naysayers laughing up their sleeves. Similarly, there’s something that’s simultaneously quite touching and hilarious about hearing several thousand voices yelling “Yay-uh!” as the band launches into its opening salvo of ‘Li’l Devil’.
You root for Astbury because he roots for you. He frequently pauses to check on the crowdsurfers being led away by the security at the front of the stage and it’s impossible not be swayed by him when he implores, “C’mon, people! Let’s loosen up! Fuck Sunday! We’re all pagans here, anyway…” But it’s when Astbury himself loosens up that the gig takes on a whole new life. He’s still got the moves as he shimmies across the stage, his hips move gloriously in time with the groove-laden barrage laid on by his comrades.
Billy Duffy, meanwhile, remains Astbury’s perfect foil. This is a guitarist for whom riffing is central to his very existence. And what riffs! ‘Rain’ is dropped early with a confidence and bravado that borders on the obscene but with an arsenal that includes an incendiary ‘Firewoman’ and the twisting, bending strings of ‘Phoenix’ it’s easy to see why. Crucially, the new material is played with as much verve and joy as the established favourites. With ‘Honey From A Knife’ and a coruscating ‘For The Animals’, The Cult is still kicking against the pricks of media indifference and all-out scorn.
The final triptych of ‘Spiritwalker’, ‘Wild Flower’ and the everegreen ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ is a distillation of everything that makes The Cult so great: monumental riffs, unrestrained spirit, an unshakeable belief in the power of rock and all underpinned by – yes – a pop sensibility that understands that value of melody when blended with white-hot molten energy. Duffy, his legs spread wide open, effortlessly straddles the once impossible chasm that divided the dexterity of Led Zeppelin with the fury of the Sex Pistols as Astbury, his hair finally loosened from its pony tail, sings and dances as if for the last time. This is incredibly seductive stuff and the involuntary smiles, jumping bodies, crowdsurfers and displays of sheer joy from the audience forms a perfect communion with the power emanating from the stage.
A total one-off, The Cult is a reinvigorated rock’n’roll animal that, on the basis of tonight’s evidence, are far from finished. Long may they run.