The Cult Live at the Fillmore

The Cult
The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
May 27, 2012

By Dan Wall

Set List: Lil Devil, Honey from a Knife, Rain, Lucifer, Nirvana, Horse Nation, Embers, Fire Woman, The Wolf, Wildflower, The Phoenix, For the Animals, Spirit Walker, She Sells Sanctuary. Encore: Love Removal Machine. 80 minutes.

The legendary Fillmore in San Francisco was packed to the gills on May 27, just like it has been for so many other nights in its long history, as The Cult returned to one of its favorite haunts early in its 2012 tour.

Lead singer Ian Astbury and the boys returned again as conquering heroes, and the crowd of hipsters, youngsters and old fans ate up each and every number played-even the stuff from the band’s superlative new Choice of Weapon record.

It’s hard to believe that the band is still making relevant new music nearly 30 years into its career, but COW is one of the best albums the band has ever made, standing tall against such classics as Electric and Sonic Temple. The group’s epic Goth sound, Billy Duffy’s raging riffs and lead singer Astbury’s shaman-like appearance and attitude was on full display on this night.

Astbury is finally starting to look and feel like Ian Astbury again. Past visits saw the long-haired vocalist looking like a homeless person who might have wandered in off Geary Blvd. This time, Astbury played the part of biker punk, and looked much more like the rock star that he is.

He sounded great, and looks happy fronting the group that he helped create back in the early 80’s. He’s a great singer and front man, with a strong, unique voice that can be molded to fit the song and a commanding stage presence that makes Astbury a true rock god.

Guitarist Billy Duffy’s a rock god as well, but in a different way. Duffy’s all about the riff. He’s written and played many great ones, and even though some of his best are simple three-chord runs, most of his best are easily memorable. “Wild Flower” isn’t that hard of a riff to play, but neither is “Highway to Hell” for that matter. Both get the job done, if you know what I mean.

Bassist Chris Wyse and drummer John Tempesta are one of the best rhythm sections that Astbury and Duffy have ever employed-and that’s saying something considering this band has went through bassists and drummers the way the local football squad goes through quarterbacks. These guys do their best to hammer home the songs without getting in Astbury and Duffys’ way, and I was especially impressed by Tempesta, who put his own stamp on the songs while being careful to replicate all of the famous fills made famous before him.

The group played an 80-minute set of blazing rock that at times simmered nicely (songs like “Embers” and “Lucifer”), while the big hits had the place in frenzy. Ultimately, it was the songs with the big riffs and choruses, classic numbers like “Fire Woman,” “Wild Flower,” “Love Removal Machine” and “She Sells Sanctuary,” that had the place in an uproar. Those are four of the band’s best songs and four of the best live rock songs out there. You simply had to be there to experience the sound, the volume, the crowd singing every word and the power of Billy Duffy’s guitar to understand just how brutal these songs are live. It looked like the Cult’s main mission on this night was to get back in front of its dedicated crowd, play some new songs and big hits, and rip your head off, and in the end, it succeeded.