Billy Duffy makes it all look so effortless.
On Saturday night, the founding guitarist for The Cult occasionally held his guitar aloft while casually playing some of the more memorable riffs in alternative and hard rock history. Even more impressive was the fact that it was done without your typical clichéd axe man posturing or grimacing.
Held at the historic Municipal Auditorium in Riverside, California - the 75-minute gig marked a rare area performance for the veteran English band. The floor section was almost filled. This was my first time experiencing an A-level act at 86-year-old venue following a recent sonic upgrade. I thought the sound quality was exceptional.
Longtime enthusiasts know that Ian Astbury can often be hit or miss in concert: will he go off on a rant? Will he clip lyrical phrases and just yelp? Here, the front man did relay a disdain for technology and took a few vocal shortcuts at the very end, but was basically in good form.
Sporting black leather jacket and shades, Astbury and company kicked things off with the haunting “Rain” and Duffy’s chugging guitar led the way.
For the quick-paced “Spiritwalker” (off the band’s debut 1984 LP Dreamtime), some clarion call effects on Duffy’s trademark Gretsch White Falcon guitar made it an early standout. A thunderous “Honey from a Knife” (key refrain: “we got the drugs in here”) was the first of three selections played from 2012’s solid, underrated Choice of Weapon. Word is they will be recording new material in the near future.
Lean ‘n’ mean riff rocker “Lil’ Devil” got the crowd all riled up; one fan in front even waved crutches in the air. A dense, grungy “The Witch" saw Astbury mumble something about “honky tonk transvestites” before he wildly shook maracas and Duffy navigated the squelching guitar.
Remarking that everyone looked like university students (the Muni is only a few miles from UC Riverside) when in fact this was an older-skewing crowd including many biker types, Astbury’s thoughtful side came to the fore during the slower, dramatic “Embers.”
Before the intense, circuitous rock thrust of “Lucifer” (about the devil, a favorite topic), Astbury quipped, “Imagine: people that can really play their instruments! All those high-priced DJs do is put in a flash drive. No talent. You deserve better.”
Duffy got in some nifty windmill motions on “Rise.” Other absorbing songs included radio hits “Sweet Soul Sister,” the stomping “Wildflower” and main set closer “Love Removal Machine.”
Come encore time, “She Sells Sanctuary” (a song which many, this writer included, consider The Cult’s finest moment) still packed a mighty wallop after all these years.
Next: Aug. 2 - Sturgis Buffalo Chip, Sturgis, South Dakota