It had been quite some time since yours truly last descended the steps into the hallowed Mandela Hall… almost exactly 18 months in fact. And, as I stood outside the chilly Sunday night air awaiting my photographer, I could not help but note the eclectic nature of the hundreds of people filing into the doomed venue on what may, quite possibly, be my last ever visit. There were traditional denim and leather clad metallians of all ages, quite well dressed middle-aged men with pot bellies and receding hairlines, and young hipster goths all in black and boots as big as their hairstyles. All here, with one mission: to be indoctrinated into The Cult.
From my perch in the eyrie directly above the stage, frontman Ian Astbury, resplendent in dark sunglasses and (like the rest of the band) dressed from head to foot in black, appears to stumble as he climbs the steps on to the stage, a pint in one hand and a lyric sheet, which he carefully places on a strategically placed board between the stage front monitors, in the other. Whatever his physical condition, though, he immediately exudes a ‘Dark Energy’, which fills the sold-out room with its dense vibrancy. It’s an atmosphere accentuated by the rich, deep tone of Billy Duffy’s guitar and the throb of Grant Fitzpatrick’s bass.
‘Rain’ is the first big pump of the night, getting the crowd singing and dancing along to its hypnotic groove, which emphasizes the terrific atmosphere: one which is electrically charged but at the same time has a cool, chilled vibe. This is echoed by the band who, driven by John Tempesta’s precise drumming and Fitzpatrick’s driving four string work, are taut and play with an exciting urgency. Astbury at times seems aloof and above everything, lost in his own world of spiritual concentration, but at others he becomes enveloped in the energy of what is going on around him. And, having seemed initially wasted when he came on stage, he shows an acute awareness of his surroundings, having a pop at both people filming the show and a professional photographer in the second row: “are you going to shoot the whole show?” he asks him, before telling the rest of the fans “we don’t mind the occasional snapshot”. He also tells the audience that “it’s OK to move forward” but, knowing it’s a sold out show, “please be careful of the person in front of you”. Slightly later, he puts down a heckler, as he pays tribute to Belfast’s musical legacy and particularly punk godfather Terri Hooley.
In among all the energy, there are moments of contemplation and reflection, as on ‘Birds Of Paradise’, which introduces a more mournful, almost regretful, feel to the evening as they head into the second half of the set. But, the action soon heats up again, as ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ sends the demolition crews due to level this venue in a few months early, with virtually every hand clapping and voice raised as Astbury evokes the “good times” of a good old-fashioned honest to goodness hot and sweaty rock ‘n’f’n’ roll show. ‘Fire Woman’ is suitably incendiary, in both its performance and reception, while main set closer ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ sounds as fresh as when it was first released three decades ago.
I’ll admit to not being the world’s biggest fan of The Cult. Yes, I’ve got most of their early albums and singles on vinyl, but they wouldn’t be at the top of my preferred playlist. But, this was an energetic and entertaining show, performed with professionalism and panache in equal measure, and one which would put many of their existing counterparts from the “love rock” era to shame with its evocation of both nostalgic and contemporary pleasure.
Dark Energy / Rain / Wildflower / Horse Nation / Hinterland / Honey From A Knife / Lil’ Devil / Gone / Birds Of Paradise / Sweet Soul Sister / Deeply Ordered Chaos / Fire Woman / Phoenix / She Sells Sanctuary
G O A T / Love Removal Machine