Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa
A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register. Photo by Kevin Warn, courtesy of the Orange County Register.
After witnessing a sizzling Costa Mesa performance by The Cult on Friday night, I regret not catching their Club Nokia gig last summer, where 1985 classic Love - given the deluxe reissue treatment in 2009 - was performed in its entirety.
Still, those who braved the cold, wet weather were treated to selections from half that album (more than any other) during a 90-minute set rife with ample hits and some rarities. The veteran English rock band headlined Day 1 of the Third Annual Musink Tattoo Convention & Music Festival.
Singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy are the lone holdovers from the original mid-1980s lineup. Over the past decade, they’ve put out two studio albums (the criminally ignored Born Into This, a return to form, arrived in ’07).
Astbury also toured with surviving members of The Doors, while Duffy (looking quite like David Beckham these days), joined Coloursound and Circus Diablo. The pair are now augmented by powerhouse drummer John Tempesta (White Zombie, Testament), bassist Chris Wyse and longtime rhythm guitarist Mike Dimkich. They're currently working on new material with producer Chris Goss (Queens of the Stone Age, Masters of Reality).
Playing to a medium-sized crowd in an OC Fairgrounds exhibition hall, The Cult opened with the rousing AC/DC-styled crunch of “Lil’ Devil” as Astbury vigorously shook a tambourine. An extended “Rain,” awash in shimmering Goth rock sounds, was simply amazing. Duffy is one of the post-punk era’s best guitarists. He frequently held his Gretsch White Falcon aloft throughout the show, giving old fans and younger “Guitar Hero” enthusiasts a close up instructional view.
Both founding Cult members were in talkative moods. Duffy dedicated a tune to frequent producer Bob Rock (I’m not sure if he was in attendance, but The Offspring’s Dexter Holland apparently was) and teased Astbury about “Fire Woman” being one of his least favorites to do.
That prompted a defensive retort (“I put my heart into it; that’s all I can give you”) and disdain for music journalists that call The Cult “too earnest” (apparently he reads their press). The thunderous tune’s persistent wails did prove taxing to the 47-year-old front man, who tended to clip various songs' phrasings here and there. But he’s done this live for awhile, without much detriment to the choruses.
Interestingly, Astbury ad-libbed during the “Fire Woman” breakdown section (“I’ve been thinking/Why must MTV air the Jersey Shore/While we’re at war”). Later, he prefaced the mesmerizing “ Phoenix ” by singing “this is not a love song” and asking who in the crowd were planning to attend the upcoming Coachella festival to see PiL.
“We’ve never been invited by Goldenvoice and we started this whole thing,” he said, referring to the Astbury-organized Gathering of the Tribes music festival in 1990. The pre-song rant continued: “People come and go, but we’re still here. Don’t talk to me about punk rock. This is acid rock. Prepare for liftoff.” Led by Duffy’s eerie effects, it definitely soared.
Same held true on more recent songs culled from Born Into This. “Dirty Little Rockstar,” included a needling Keith Richards-inspired riff (a la “Undercover of the Night”) and the stop/start rhythm of “I Assassin” featured Duffy’s windmill guitar moves. More standout moments came during the clarion call guitars and chanting of “Spritwalker,” full group harmonies on “Love Removal Machine” and razor sharp closer “She Sells Sanctuary,” which continues to induce goose bumps after a quarter century. All told, The Cult proved it is still a force to be reckoned with.
Earlier in the evening, pro-BMX rider Rick Thorne and his punk group Good Guys in Black played to a dozen or so people on the outdoor Jaggermeister stage, located next to the skate ramp.
“Moving On” came across like a less melodic Unwritten Law, “Whoa Yeah” bore elements of early Social Distortion and an expletive-laden diatribe about Hollywood posers recalled Suicidal Tendencies. Thorne seemed sincere in his song introductions and his band mates were definitely proficient players.
Indoors, Long Beach skateboarder Mike Vallely & By the Sword struck a far more aggressive hardcore rock stance amid a set concentrating on Black Flag and Minor Threat covers. They were joined by another noted skateboarder/musician, Duane Peters of U.S. Bombs/Die Hunns, on “Rise Above.” The group capped things off with thrashing takes on “Louie Louie” and “Good Guys Don’t Wear White.”
Lollapalooza fave Jim Rose served as emcee on the main stage, bringing an odd assortment of characters and audience participants up for stunts like the human dartboard and hitting people over the head with a frying pan until they can't take anymore.