The Cult opened their concert at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, an ocean side club that has hosted some of the biggest names in rock history over the years, by roaring into the stuttering opening riff of their mid-80s classic “Lil’ Devil,” and never looked back. After three decades in the business of rock n roll, The Cult proved they can still tear up a stage.
The Cult then leapt forward to the present for their second number, the pounding drug addiction anthem “Honey From a Knife” from the new Choice of Weapon
album. The new song blended seamlessly with both the preceding song and the one following it, the dreamily psychedelic (but still hard rocking) “Rain,” from The Cult’s 1985 breakout Love
Throughout the night, The Cult would shift back and forth from 1980s gems to new songs with no appreciable loss of song quality or energy onstage or in the audience, demonstrating the strength of the new album. In fact, the pulsating metallic “Lucifer,” the fourth song of the night, may have been the highlight of the show.
The Cult did provide the crowd with other big hits, including a set-closing version of their breakout hit “She Sells Sanctuary” which drew hearty approval as soon as lead guitarist Billy Duffy started playing the distinctively stretched opening chords, the second song of the encore, “Love Removal Machine” from 1987’s Electric,
and a rousing midset take on “Fire Woman” from 1989’s Sonic Temple
. But they did not strictly focus on the most popular songs from their past. Other chestnuts included an ominously punky “Rise,” from the lesser-known 2001 album Beyond Good and Evil.
Despite a somewhat gloomy public image and the decidedly grim lyrical content on their latest album, The Cult were engaging performers who genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves on stage. Between an impressive array of howls, moans, shrieks and Jim Morrisonesque crooning, lead singer Ian Astbury frequently spoke to the crowd, telling the stories behind songs and name-checking classic rock heroes such as The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Astbury, who performed with surviving Doors members Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger early last decade, even worked snippets of lyrics from Doors songs “Peace Frog” and “Wild Child” into his vocals.
Meanwhile, Duffy happily mugged for the audience between songs and appeared to have a few one-on-one conversations with fans in the front row (which at Hampton Beach is about six inches from the stage). Duffy played like a virtuoso, conjuring the spirit of guitar gods such as Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and Angus Young with heavy, dexterous playing that included plenty of wah-wah effects and controlled feedback. Bassist Chris Wyse also receives kudos for attacking his instrument as if it were a guitar, rather than standing still and plucking strings as so many bass players do on stage.
Opening act Against Me! delivered defiant pop-punk teen anthems at a frenetic, Ramones-like pace, with virtually no lapses between songs. The band, who strutted on stage waving their fists in the air as the “Rocky” theme played over the PA system, had plenty of enthusiasm. Singer/guitarist Tom Gabel displayed some serious stage presence, combining Bono’s earnestness with the androgynous swagger of vintage David Bowie. But Against Me! do not sound terribly different from the many other pop-infused punk bands spreading mayhem these days, and need to work on crafting more of a distinctive sound.