MONTCLAIR, NJ—After a month-long break following their tour of Australia and Europe, British rockers The Cult made their way to The Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ on Dec. 5. Playing their classic, Rick Rubin-produced 1987 album, Electric, in its entirety, fans flocked to the venue to see the band—vocalist Ian Astbury, guitarist Billy Duffy, bassist Chris Wyse, drummer John Tempesta and touring guitarist James Stevenson—play some of their most memorable hits.
The vast majority of folks arrived around the 8 p.m. scheduled start time. While the group didn’t hit the stage until after 9, fans didn’t seem to mind waiting a bit, as many played on their phones, purchased t-shirts and hit the bar.
Coming out to a thunderous ovation, The Cult quickly launched into the first track from Electric, “Wild Flower.” Astbury—sporting short hair, a pair of shades and a blue, puffy vest with the American flag on the back—took control of center stage, looking calm and focused. On the upbeat rock ‘n’ roll track, he put his talents on full display, hitting the high notes with ease and moving and grooving during Duffy’s mesmerizing solo. “Peace Dog” followed, and when it came time to yell “Baby, baby, baby” toward the end, Astbury excelled, screaming to the rafters to make sure those in the balcony could hear his powerful voice.
Armed with his classic Gretsch White Falcon—a gigantic, hollow-body, gold-plated guitar and one of the most beautiful instruments in existence—Duffy was locked and loaded, firing away on the third cut, “Lil’ Devil.” The rhythm section was at its best here, as Wyse’s heavy, steady bassline combined with Duffy’s solos and Tempesta’s loud drumming to complement Astbury. Tempesta crashed the cymbals and put on a show during “Aphrodisiac Jacket,” the slower-paced fourth song.
The highlight for Wyse came during “Bad Fun,” undoubtedly the heaviest tune on the night. He also shined on “Love Removal Machine,” which, as expected, drew the most praise from the Electric album. A hit made even more popular by its inclusion in Guitar Hero: World Tour a few years back, the gang clicked on all cylinders, with Astbury delivering the high notes and shaking his tambourine, Wyse providing stellar backing vocals and bass, Duffy unleashing a furious solo and Tempesta angrily slamming away on the kit.
“Zap City,” “Outlaw” and “Memphis Hip Shake” closed out the live portion of the 11-track disc. Astbury admitted after “Zap City” that the song was a little difficult to sing having been off for three-plus weeks, but he belted out the high-pitched lyrics like a champion. Wyse had a slight issue as well toward the end of Electric, as at one point he uncharacteristically had to switch bass guitars mid-song. Some problems are to be expected on the first night of a tour, but the veteran musicians made sure to limit those mistakes and excelled.
The Cult left the stage for a few minutes after finishing Electric, and played a best-of set when they came back out, starting with their mega-hit, “Rain,” before going into “Honey From A Knife” and “Sweet Soul Sister.” This is when Duffy started to take over, masterfully drawing the crowd in, unloading riffs and solos, and switching from his cello-sized beauty to something a little bit smaller. Billy Duffy may not be a household name, but the 52-year-old Brit is a vastly underrated guitarist, and easily one of the best I’ve ever seen live.
Arguably their catchiest, most well-known song, “She Sells Sanctuary” was the encore closer. Fans were bouncing up and down once the famous riff began playing and Astbury delivered the goods, slipping and sliding around on stage like he did in the ‘80s music video. Their second encore included “Nirvana” and “Spiritwalker” before a rousing rendition of “Sun King” ended the 21-song set.
After seeing The Cult last year in support of their latest album, Choice Of Weapon, I was really looking forward to this show and hearing Electric from start to finish. Despite it being night number one on their current tour, the band was tight and the Wellmont sound carried very well throughout the elegant arena.
The Cult have been around for 30 years, and the end is nowhere in sight. With the band set to release a new album in 2014, here’s to hoping Billy Duffy, Ian Astbury and crew make their way back to the Tri-State Area next year.