It’s been a bit tricky getting around to this post for longtime alternative rockers The Cult. I’d originally planned for last Saturday, the 22nd, which would’ve been exactly a week past their Greek Theatre show on the 15th. I don’t recall what happened. But the one thing that didn’t was this particular entry. So I’m going to end the month with a refreshingly entertaining slice of vintage ’80s rock, revived and refreshed for The Cult’s “A Sonic Temple” L.A. performance.
First off, I can’t believe The Cult’s been around since ’83. It seems like the time has just flown by. Of course, these rock ‘n roll vets have gone through a few line-up changes. But vocalist Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy have been there from the start. My introduction, like many, was the alternative anthem “She Sells Sanctuary” and its groundbreaking sophomore album “Love.” The year was ’85, and for the time, the sound was completely unique, blending unlikely, yet familiar tropes, like hard rock and Goth, with an unexpected Native American vibe, adding some desert spirituality and vision questing to the grooving guitar solos and rumbling rhythms.
The Cult ultimately left behind the Goth, keeping the rock, and embracing the tribalistic spirit, drifting somewhat into the psychedelic, while still remaining grounded to good old fashion mother earth. There was a definite Doors vibe sifting in the mix, which sometimes became quite literal, particularly with improv’d lyrical homages during their live performances. But the harder elements still took precedence, albeit slightly skewed to an alternative slant, a shamanistic aura still lingering in the soul and spirit of their evolving sound.
That brings us to ’89, for their fourth release “Sonic Temple,” which arguably contains some of their most recognizable hits, the scorch and blister of “Fire Woman,” the blues-minded southern-fried anthemic aspirations of “Sweet Soul Sister,” and the soulful serenade of “Edie (Ciao Baby).” This era definitely represented the peak of their run, in terms of popularity. Back when radio was a thing, you’d hear them everywhere.
Not to dwell on the negative, but they’d never quite reach that peak again, at least when it came to the mainstream. No matter, though. They powered on, crafting six more albums since, most of them pretty darn good. The Cult just chose to do their own thing, which didn’t always equate to the immediacy of past efforts. With that, came introspection, creativity, complexity, and a more enlightened spirituality. They also grew into a noticeable maturity in their musicianship, less up-front rock stars and more modestly skilled artists. That’s not to say they weren’t capable from the start … just less glam and glitter, and more bad-ass performance and songcraft, all of which was on display at their Greek Theatre performance on June 15th.
Their current tour, dubbed “A Sonic Temple,” is a celebration of this seminal peak era for the once-British outfit, who’s now settled roots in the ever-mystifying City of Angels, a.k.a. Los Angeles. But this isn’t the typical album-in-its-entirety performance, which would’ve been cool, had they gone that route. Rather, The Cult opted to focus on eight of the eleven tracks, shuffling the order, extending a few key moments, and bringing the rest up to today’s live performance mindset. The result was refreshingly energetic, yet entirely faithful, and undeniably the culmination of a three-plus decade career.
I’ve got five of the eight “Sonic Temple” selections featured below, the aforementioned trio of “Fire Woman,” “Sweet Soul Sister,” and “Edie (Ciao Baby),” plus the opener desert rocker “Sun King,” and perhaps one of my favs from the night, “American Horse,” which featured an extended guitar groove that moved Astbury into a circle-bound tribal rain dance, or at least, that’s what it looked like.
It’s quite a revelation to experience all these songs after so many years. I mean, I’ve heard them on and off in the interim, whether it be casual listening or seeing one of their live performances. I caught them at the Hollywood Palladium back in ’15, where they performed a couple of these tracks. And I remember being totally blown away, completely caught off guard by how tight they sounded. That’s still the case. But hearing an entire collection from “Sonic Temple” really seals the deal. Here they are for your enjoyment.
The Cult perform “Fire Woman” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
The Cult perform “Sweet Soul Sister” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
The Cult perform “Edie (Ciao Baby)” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
The Cult perform “Sun King” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
The Cult perform “American Horse” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
Of course, “Sonic Temple” only accounts for the show’s first half. The second mainly focused on their first three albums, with a couple of extras from ’01s “Beyond Good and Evil,” which admittedly, I’m not as familiar with – i.e. it doesn’t hit the rotation as often as the others. Speaking of which, I’ve known and loved these earlier tracks for many years, including the aforementioned “She Sells Sanctuary,” which on-stage is a bit more rock heavy than its original incarnation, as well as two more from the “Love” album, the thundering “Rain” and the acidic and psychedelic “Phoenix.”
The Cult perform “She Sells Sanctuary” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
The Cult perform “Rain” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
The Cult perform “The Phoenix” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
The Cult also dusted off one of their earliest tracks, “Spiritwalker,” from the ’84 album “Dreamtime.” This one dates all the way back to the alternative rock and goth era, mixed up with some of that Native American spirituality I mentioned earlier. Much of The Cult’s evolution, I feel owes a debt to this track. It ain’t their most rockin’, nor outright accessible and mainstream. But the roots are firmly planted in this era.
The Cult perform “Spiritwalker” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
Lastly, two of their most memorable tracks from their third album “Electric” rounded out the set, “Wildflower” and “Love Removal Machine.” I remember when this album came out. It was such a departure from “Love,” eschewing the moodier Goth-flavored grooves for a purely psychedelic rock flashback from the ’60s. It had a sharper edge that wasn’t seen on earlier efforts, much due to the contributions of legendary producer Rick Rubin, who some might remember for his work with the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, and the founding of Def Jam Recordings. Yet, even in this heightened state, “Electric” still sounded like The Cult, and would ultimately leave a lasting impression for years to come, particularly, and quite fittingly, with the focus of this performance, “Sonic Temple.”
Here’s “Wildflower” and “Love Removal Machine.”
The Cult perform “Wild Flower” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
The Cult perform “Love Removal Machine” @ the Greek Theatre on 06.15.19.
And for those keeping count, here’s The Cult’s setlist for their Greek Theatre performance on 06.15.19. As mentioned, most of this material is pure vintage Cult, with the exception of a couple “Beyond Good and Evil” tracks, which, at 2001, also still qualifies as old. This is a great collection of tracks, offering a fairly comprehensive selection of earlier material from one of the more influential alternative rock acts from the ’80s. And if you like what you hear, I’d suggest checking out the subsequent releases from the ’90s, “Ceremony” and the self-titled “The Cult.” Also, they’re rumored to be working on a new album. Maybe, this current “A Sonic Temple” tour might reignite some of that late ’80s spark. Until then, enjoy all these offerings from The Cult.