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Concert Review: The Cult at Cowboys Dance Hall, Calgary, Alberta, August 26, 2012

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The theme of rebirth and resurrection has been a recurring touchstone for the Cult throughout the band’s long career. From obvious early references with 1984’s “Resurrection Joe” single to “The Phoenix” on 1985’s catapulting classic, Love, to “Rise” on 2001’s Beyond Good and Evil to “Embers” on this year’s impressive Choice of Weapon, the Cult have stayed the path to continually emerge cleanly and to stand tall through adversity and indifference.

In this respect, tonight’s setting, Cowboys Dance Hall in Calgary, is an apt one as it is freshly reopening as a concert venue; displaced by condo development, Cowboys has re-emerged within the historic Stampede grounds, a casino entertainment complex that houses varying-sized arenas, exhibition halls, and grandstands. Spacious with great sightlines on the main floor, Cowboy’s paint still felt fresh as the Cult baptized it in their righteous and cleansing fire.

Kicking off with “Lil’ Devil,” Billy Duffy re-established himself as one of the most innovative and mesmerizing axe men. His deft fretwork underscored his ability to forcefully bait a guitar hook and reel in the audience. Because of him, the five-piece had us at hello.

This is not say the other members were slack. Far from it, as the Cult proved hands down for an hour and 20 minutes that it is one well-oiled “(Love Removal) Machine.”

Leather-lunged singer Ian Astbury showed no signs of weakness with his choice of weapon, knowing when to unleash the “Rain” of his tyranny and when to whisper compassionately. He was particularly compelling on a trio of new tracks – “Honey from a Knife,” “For the Animals,” and the exceptional “Lucifer” – where he convincingly conveyed the passion he feels for the new music as a man still at the top of his game. On the strength of these tunes alone, Choice of Weapon feels like the band’s most brash, underrated album in years.

Other new songs – “The Wolf” and “Life > Death” – were good, but lacked the full-frontal impact of the others, and the mid-set, aforementioned “Embers” killed the crushing, inexorable momentum the band had established to that point.

Without fail, however, the crew rallied to resurrect a set of epic proportions. 

Exhibiting tenacity coupled with a long-term camaraderie stemming from decades of experience and at least six years together as a touring unit, the 2012 Cult has an arsenal few other bands can muster.

Most prominently during “The Phoenix,” non-founding members Chris Wyse (bass), John Tempesta (drums) and Mike Dimkich (rhythm guitar) led the charge by showcasing individually and collectively the skills they contribute to the whole of the band. This is not the Cult of the 1980s – it’s better, more seasoned and capable of delivering a punch after taking one (like the critical right cross given to their previous album: 2007’s Born Into This).

Fighting fit and refusing to burn out, rest on its past, or fade away, this is a band and a tour neither to be missed nor to be messed with. Cowboys couldn’t have found a more fitting or experienced sponsor to orchestrate its Lazarus-like rebirth.

Chris “Gutter” Rose

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