"What deep cuts do you want to hear?" My buddy asked me, moments before The Cult's set at Terminal 5. My answer: None. I don't love The Cult. They've got some good tunes, but their bombast, coupled with pretenses of being alternative and hard rock without being great either, hasn't endeared them to this headbanger. However, I do love metal, and The Cult are a part of its history, so I took the chance to see them.
Openers Against Me!, now more famous for their newly-transgendered frontman than their music, played a surprisingly likeable pop-punk set. Having been disillusioned with the genre since Ixnay on the Hombre and bored by the show I caught from them five years ago, where they seemed unsure of what to make of their major label status and touring slot with Mastodon, it was fun to see them evolve into such confident and engaging performers. Perhaps inspired to prove herself under her new identity, Laura Jane Grace charged through the show with Green Day-inspired power punk and glam rock androgyny. Best of all, the band covered the Replacements' "Androgynous," a choice that would have been predictable had they not enlisted help from surprise guest Joan Jett.
Getting on the good foot with "Lil' Devil," The Cult set the tone for a hits-filled night. It was not to be--a gracious helping from their newest, Choice of Weapon, suggested leftovers from Josh Homme's Desert Sessions and were received as politely as one could hope. But rock n' roll isn't polite, and The Cult's most raucous moments ignited the crowd, particularly "She Sells Sanctuary" and the definitive "Fire Woman." Windmill expert Billy Duffy, whose jangling connects Johnny Marr to Def Leppard, rang out coliseum-sized power chords that emphasized his case as one of the first alternapop heroes to reach arena rock status. The band's MVP, without a doubt.
But my problem with The Cult, and particularly frontman Ian Astbury, isn't that they're bad. It's that they're not good enough. Like his idol, Jim Morrison, Astbury is both his band's charismatic draw and its pompous foil. He doesn't seem like a bad guy, and in fact was chatting with fans and signing tickets before the show. But his composed sleazeball stage persona didn't do him any favors. Between enough f-words to embarrass Lil' Wayne, Astbury bantered about how hot it was inside (without taking off his fur and leather jacket), pretended to play three different tambourines that all got tossed to the crowd and never got worked up enough to remove his sunglasses. For a more engaging rock star, none of these acts would have seemed forced, but Astbury's considerable talents don't quite live up to his ego. I have seen Axl Rose, Axl Rose was a hero of mine, and Ian, you're no Axl Rose.
But to be fair, Astbury can sing, and his Lizard King fantasies suited Duffy's riffage just fine. Encoring with "Love Removal Machine," the band unleashed what looked like energy that they had saved up in the last hour, thrashing out their cockrock tendencies like mystic rock icons. For once, Astbury was everything that he pretended to be, and we needed him just as much as his band did.