Glasgow is a spiritual home for Ian Astbury and the Barrowland Ballroom has been the scene for many special performances for nearly 40 years.
The evolution of one of the biggest rock bands to grace some of the biggest stages in the world was relatively short but spurned two inspirational bands. The Cult were borne out of the short lived Death Cult which of course was derived from Southern Death Cult. All of these bands were morphed by Ian Astbury and songs from all three bands would feature throughout the set. Billy Duffy, the iconic guitarist who joined Astbury to form Death Cult was of course in attendance along with fellow Cult members John Tempesta on Drums and Charlie Jones on bass.
It’s nearly 38 years since the first time I saw them live and my expectations were high as these rockers are no strangers to putting on a show. Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow is the perfect venue for a lively night as any artist will confirm having ever played it. The crowd were packed in to the sold out venue way before the advertised stage time which was testament to their legacy and popularity.
Lili Refrain was an inspired choice to open the proceedings as I’m not sure how any guitar based band would match up to Death Cult on this tour. Certainly not your run of the mill artist but that is not a slight on the considerable talents of Lili Refrain. Her mix of live loop drums/synths, layered with guitar and her ethereal voice created a massive cacophony of sound. There was no backing tracks involved with the dark, sombre, broody synth driven ghostly music which was perfectly projected by Lili’s persona. Her looks complimented her dramatic sound. The dark black laced outfit complete with striking black and red eye makeup resembled a native American look which was very fitting considering who she was opening for. Her operatic voice elevated the gloomy mood created by the hypnotic rhythms. As one song almost seamlessly blended into another, her minimalist show was over too quickly for me to fully embrace but definitely one to follow up online post gig. The setlist comprised of “Ichor”, “Sangoma” and “Mami Wata”. Lili took her time to sincerely thank the Glasgow audience after she finished the performance with “Earthling”.
Follow Lili Refrain online:
I’m not entirely sure what inspired Astbury and Duffy to resurrect Death Cult but whatever the reason, it was an inspired one. The tour kicked off in Los Angeles as a one off USA date before arriving in the UK via Ireland. Right from the off, the tour has had nothing but praise which is well deserved. The post-punk, gothic, Native American culture inspired band ironically released only a handful of songs back in the day yet, have sold out many venues on this tour. The four track E.P. “Death Cult” was faithfully reproduced in its entirety and benefited from 40 years of musical mastery as Duffy’s guitar almost dominated the performance. Astbury’s voice was on par with the guitar though and had not lost any of its power or dramatic effect. The band kicked off with “83rd Dream” from The Cult’s first album “Dreamtime”. The massive sounding tribal drums and pounding bass drove through the first quarter of the set as the seminal EP was aired. “Christians”, “Brothers Grimm” and “Ghost Dance” were all gratefully received by the crowd who were hungry for more. There was a definite hint of “weegie” in Astbury’s dialect as he made references to his history with the city throughout the evening.
The powerful performance ramped up as the night went on and the intensity was at its height for “Flower in the Desert”. There was only Astbury and Duffy on stage amongst the cosmetic smoke. Astbury’s angst ridden vocals hung in the ether as Duffy’s perfectly picked guitar provided the suspense and drama. Endearing himself even more to the crowd, Astbury said “You never let me down” as he intimated his relief at finishing the song. Halfway through the set and with the band in full flow, the crowd pleasers kept coming. There might not have been an extensive back catalogue to fall back on, but it’s a treasured one as the entire audience were at the top of the voices at times. “Resurrection Joe” and “Horse Nation” demonstrated the diversity of the band and how their lyrical content describes the hope and despair in the world. The “hits” kept coming with “Go West” and “Hollow Man” as the recognisable songs and their lyrics were on the lips of the fascinated audience who looked mesmerised at times. One of the great things of having decades of dedication to your craft is applying those years of musical maturity to songs and improve them. “Dreamtime” sounds almost thin on the studio version in comparison with the live rendition and “Spiritwalker” brought out the best in the band for me. There was an inevitability of the final main set song with “Rain”. A necessary evil perhaps to remind the hard core that The Cult evolved but judging by the reaction, it was more than tolerated for the most part.
There was always going to be an encore and it was a fitting one. The full spectrum was played out with the Southern Death Cult song, “Moya”. I’m sure most discerning fans will remember seeing the song played on “The Tube” back in the day. That tv programme was an absolute must for post-punk fans as it brought most of the influential bands of the era into the mainstream and it documented the early history of the band so well. The iconic imagery of Astbury may have faded through the years but it was all brought back with a bang with “She Sells Sanctuary”. Duffy’s instantly recognisable intro guitar lick was met with a huge roar and the crowd bounced along for the last few minutes savouring each utterance from Astbury. The iconic Gretsch White Falcon was raised into the air one last time to signify the end of a memorable gig. It might just be another to notch off for the band but guaranteed, it’s one of the “you had to be there” moments for most of the punters. The forums and socials will be busy with memories from the tour being posted and with a 40th anniversary in sight, it might not be the last. Let’s hope so.
Follow Death Cult / The Cult online: