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The Cult's, Ian Astbury (left) and Billy Duffy. Photo by Mark Horton, courtesy of RBC Bluesfest.

Bluesfest International Highlights: The Cult

By Terry Steeves on July 11, 2016

British hard rockers The Cult brought their legacy of music in a short one-hour set of songs from as far back as their second album, Love (1985). Founding members and songwriting team, Ian Astbury (lead vocals), and Billy Duffy (lead guitar), left their respective bands to form what would become The Cult back in the early 1980’s, and have survived as a team despite numerous band member changes and a couple hiatus periods that all told, lasted several years. Both walked onto Bluesfest’s Claridge Homes Stage on a rainy Saturday night, with current members, John Tempesta (drums), Damon Fox (rhythm guitar/keys), and Grant Fitzpatrick (bass).

Astbury shouted a “Je suis Canadien!” out to the audience, and with that, broke into their 1987 hit, “Wildflower”, from their third album, Electric, which marked the band’s entry into their more hard rock sound. Duffy slid into the first of the many fiery guitar solos on his Black Falcon Gretsch, similar to his white one with which he created the band’s iconic sound from the very beginning. Astbury is still an electrifying front man to watch, as he swung around his mic, oozed plenty of body language, and strutted his rock god persona confidentally, with vocals as powerfully intact as they ever were. The once long-locked goth image was replaced by black denim, sunglasses, and hair slicked-back in a short ponytail.

Astbury spoke frequently to the crowd, “You guys look f- wet – but we’re right here with ya!” followed by “How many people out there actually know the band?“, and seemed surprised at the massive show of hands. He shared his personal stance on subjects of gun control, endangered species, and shouted socio-political views of “We are all equal! But we live with chaotic order all around us.” [Editor’s note: For more on the impact of Astbury’s comments, click here.]

These points were followed by songs “Hinterland”, “L’il Devil”, “GOAT”, and “Deeply Ordered Chaos”, from their current and 10th album, Hidden City, released earlier this year. The album reflects a karma-like warning on the corruption, destruction, and ensuing resurrection of our world. The album carries on the band’s hard rock sound, amplified once again with the producing magic of Bob Rock. “Hinterland” impressed me with it’s head-banging bass backbone, over which Duffy’s signature guitar riffing resonated, and broke into a chorus laid thick with Astbury’s piercing, hair-curling voice.

Some of the past favourites, were peppered nicely throughout the set, like “Rise”, with its exotic intro that kicked into full-throttle heaviness, and my personal fave, “Sweet Soul Sister”, which Astbury dedicated in ode to the clan mothers of First Nations tribes. His fascination with Indigenous North American peoples stem from his father’s naval posting to Canada when Astbury was a child, and has remained a recurring theme in his songwriting.

Then came those iconic chords and the building thunder of the drums with “Fire Woman”, where the chorus was taken over by the crowd. Another wah-heavy guitar solo followed by a quiet segment, into a blazing drum solo finish, has always made this song such a powerfully textured one. Added to the list of familiar pieces, and saved for the latter part of the set was one that broke them onto North American soil… “She Sells Sanctuary”, where Astbury worked the crowd into hand-clapping and singing hysteria. The last one of the night, “Love Removal Machine”, was delivered by Astbury in all its sexy vocal flavour, who tossed another of what seemed like an endless supply of tambourines out to the crowd. And with one final thronging guitar solo, the song was brought to its raging ending. “Thank you Ottawa – je t’adore!” as the band walked off the stage, and the audience reluctantly dispersed out into the rainy night.

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