The Cult + Broken Hands @ The Institute, 1st March 2016

The Cult-TC01

Support for The Cult comes from Canterbury based Broken Hands. They are a five piece who released their debut album Turbulence, in October last year.  I only managed to catch the last couple of tracks but various websites have compared them to an array of bands ranging from early Kasabian to Black Sabbath.  The songs I heard reminded me of Richard Ashcroft fronting a sped up Hawkwind, as there is a distinctly psychedelic vibe to their music whilst the vocal style is prominent and drawing on the more indie side of music. Certainly, Broken Hands touring schedule means that they are all very comfortable on stage and deliver a refined performance that is popular with the ever increasing audience. They are playing at The Hare and Hounds on 25th April and if you appreciate early Verve or Muse then you should definitely make the effort to check them out.

Before The Cult take to the stage, David Bowie is playing in the background as an obvious tribute to the legend, which makes the extended wait more bearable, that and the entertaining sound technician. Billy Duffy is the first to take to the stage quickly shadowed by the rest of the band to start with Dark Energy. This is the first single taken from their recent album, Hidden City, which starts with a tribal drum beat that resonates around the sold out venue, as if drawing the audience into a spiritual ceremony of sorts. Ian Astbury, all clad in black including a pair of shades, holds various poses with tambourine in hand whilst delivering a strong performance of religiously mystical and spiritual lyrics.  After the thundering introduction to the set, the band return to the classic Rain which is embraced wholeheartedly by the crowd who begin to make more movement despite the restrictive space.

The hits continue with the tremendous riff of Wildflower, which is a personal favourite as Duffy creates such a blues rock groove that is enhanced by Astbury’s baritonal melody. However, the song is interrupted briefly by Ian’s call for a man in the audience to put his hands down that turns out later to be a warning about crowd violence which is conveyed in a respectful manner whilst encouraging people to have fun. As Duffy’s solo launches into full pelt, Astbury utilises the opportunity to pose for photographers with a magnificent arrogance that is tolerated only because this is a frontman who has honed his craft over the past forty years furthermore, his ease on stage means he happily blows his nose and then questions someone on the balcony who is texting, demanding his full attention.

Unsurprisingly, it is the older tracks that receive the warmest reception, Lil Devil, Fire Woman and Sweet Soul Sister are perfect illustrations as to why The Cult made such an impact upon the music scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s.   Due to the size of the venue, the band don’t have their usual backdrop which often accompanies songs with provocative images; however, they use the lighting to maximum effect most noticeably during Gone where the change of pace is supplemented with a move from blue to white lights onstage.   The solo allows Billy Duffy to display his guitar prowess to its fullest which is followed by a keyboard solo from Damon Fox that unfortunately doesn’t translate as it is so low in the mix that it gets lost amongst the rhythm. Between songs, Astbury willingly engages with the audience by delivering an ongoing stream of consciousness, prior to Birds Of Paradise he notes, “This is heavy shit, we are all going to go into the great beyond.”

The introduction to the new song sees The Cult return to their goth roots with its clean minor arpeggio patterns; the live performance has far more weight than on record and gives the song a depth that is missing. Clearly the age of the audience are more mature but it is a young soul that grabs Astbury’s attention and he purposefully heads over to hand him a tambourine, later on warning the audience not to taint the youth by keeping them ignorant regarding the necessity for Viagra and other age related issues.  Traditionally, the main set is completed with a blistering rendition of She Sells Sanctuary that remains a timeless alternative rock track guaranteed to get a crowd dancing (it is worth noting that the Smoke Fairies did perform a beautifully delicate cover version of the track on Marc Riley’s 6 Music show some time back).

The band isn’t off stage for long as the audience demand more and the musicians are happy to oblige with shamanic call of Spiritwalker followed by GOAT.  GOAT packs the punch of an older Cult track, letting it be known that there are plenty of grit and power left in the song writing pair of Astbury and Duffy.  The finale is Love Removal Machine another blazing riff that lays down the essence of a straightforward, honest blues rock song that is contagiously energetic and brings the hour and half set to a fitting end.

Review: Toni Woodward

Photograph: Ian Dunn

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