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COLUMN: The Cult blasts devoted fans with hit after hit

British rock group, still going strong after almost 40 years, hit the stage at Casino Rama on Saturday night

I consider myself very lucky for the musical era I was brought up in. I caught the tail end of hair metal as I hit my teen years and then transitioned right into the alternative/grunge explosion when it was still considered an 'underground' scene. 

With an older, teenage brother in the late 1980s, he introduced me to legions of under-the-radar metal bands, many of which I still listen to regularly today. I still carry an affinity for those hair-spray bands, because things were lighter and less serious. The lyrics are mostly laughable in hindsight, but music is supposed to entertain, right? 

As 1990 rolled around and I began to seek out and satisfy my own musical tastes as a 14-year-old, that's when I found the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. And today, much like those metal bands, I still find myself enjoying groups of that ilk. Nostalgia plays a big role in the music of our lives. 

It was definitely like two different worlds. Many bands from that old guard, with their pyrotechnics and bikini-clad women in their glossy videos, simply melted away when Kurt Cobain came on the scene with his piercing scream, ripped jeans and flannel shirt tied around the waist. The two musical camps couldn't have been farther apart. 

But The Cult, who rocked the stage at Casino Rama last night, seemed to possess the best of both worlds. Frankly, they were neither the old guard nor the newfangled shiny object. They were distinctly somewhere in between, and that's what made/makes them great even to this day. Sure, maybe the visual at the time retained the distinct 1980s quality, with singer Ian Astbury's puffy pirate shirts and colourful scarves, but it all ended there. The sound is what matters most. They cut their teeth in the post-punk and goth scenes before transitioning in more edgy rock 'n' roll where they clearly left their mark as a crossover success story. 

To this day, The Cult's sound remains timeless and not stuck in 1985. Astbury's deep voice and Billy Duffy's signature guitar tone — primarily through that distinctive White Falcon Gretsch — are unmistakable to this day. 

While they can belt out the rock riffs and screams as good as anyone, their dark appearance and lyricism were much different than what was going on in, say, 1989. That was the year the British group released its much-heralded Sonic Temple album, which was chock full of anthems, from Fire Woman and Sweet Soul Sister to Edie (Caio Baby) and Sun King, all of which found their way onto Saturday's 16-song set list.

Astbury, clad in all black, also announced that the Casino Rama show, the last stop on the North American tour, would be their longest set of the circuit, stretching over 80 minutes with an encore. That, of course, received a raucous ovation from the mostly vintage crowd. Lil Devil, Wildflower and Love Removal Machine all got the audience members out of their seats for most of the night.  

And with a page straight out of Rock 'n' Roll 101, at one point in the show, Astbury's tambourine — which is never too far away — busted as he repeatedly bounced it off the stage floor. He tossed the splintered shards to someone at stage right and within a split-second, another one comes flying out, right into his hand. That's rock 'n' roll, folks! 

I'm a bit of a music history nerd, too, and a story that has always interested me is that Astbury spent part of his childhood growing up in Hamilton with his British family. He has told reporters in the past that those years had a lasting effect on his musical tastes and influences introducing him to the likes of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and the New York Dolls. The dark front man even took the time to belt out some of Ontario's more obscure city names last night, and also hung a small Canadian flag on one of the speakers. He clearly showed his time living in Canada helped shape him. It was also here that he developed a kinship and deep interest in Indigenous culture, which still permeates the band's lyrics and imagery.

And don't be fooled. The Cult wasn't merely on some casino rock tour, which many aging/classic bands invariably find themselves on as the crowds dwindle over time. The group's latest album, Under the Midnight Sun, is scheduled for release in early October and marks their 11th studio offering. The release of lead single from the new record, Give Me Mercy, which was performed halfway through last night's set, helped them kick off the North American tour back on July 8 in Minnesota. All but two of songs played last night — Give Me Mercy, and Rise from 2001's Beyond Good and Evil — came from the band's classic 1980s catalogue. 

It's been six years since founding members Astbury and Duffy released their last full-length, 2016's Hidden City. For my money, Duffy should go down as one of the all-time greats, with his unique sound and unrepentantly catchy riffs. For the new album, Astbury has said he drew on influences such as Brian Jones, William S. Burroughs, Buddhism, the Beats, and the Age of Aquarius, all put through the musical machine that is The Cult. Definitely something to look forward to! 

As the days, months and years pass by, The Cult will always hold a special place for me and that was only reinforced at last night's concert. 

Raymond Bowe is the editor at BarrieToday. 


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Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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