I found myself waiting beside a food truck with a small crowd of Houston Open Air concert goers when The Cult kicked in to the their first song, “Wild Flower,” from their 1987 album Electric. I was not happy about this. My first opportunity to see The Cult live and here I was waiting for some pork and kimchee tacos. When they arrived I hustled to the closest spot in the VIP area to view the stage and I ate my tacos through “Rain” from 1985s Love LP. When I finished, I hustled outside to get a center view of the stage. Slowly throughout the set I pushed closer.
Drawing heavily from Electric, Love, and the Sonic Temple albums, the 10-song set also featured a track from their latest album, Hidden City, and “Rise” from 2001s comeback album Beyond Good and Evil. The band sounded sharp and lead singer Ian Astbury’s vocals sounded strong, though he missed a few beats nearly every song. On the stadium rocker, “Fire Woman,” he relented to the crowd to sing his signature “fiiiiirrrrre!” line while presumably catching his breath. Which was genuinely odd as his voice otherwise sounded strong and full. Perhaps he was having some technical difficulties with the on stage monitors. Of all the bands I witnessed at Houston Open Air, the Cult had the worst house sound. I’m not sure who is to blame, but it’s a shame when these things happen. For the majority of the set, guitarist Billy Duffy and Astbury’s vocals were pushed to the top of the mix. The bass was completely inaudible and the drummer only really came through on cymbal crashes. It was a disappointment they didn’t have a better live sound. It made several songs unidentifiable until a familiar lyric was heard.
“She Sells Sanctuary,” “Sweet Soul Sister,” and “Love Removal Machine” were crowd pleasers. The audience sang-along, clapped-along, but it was somewhat obvious The Cult was a bit of a palate cleanser between Ministry and Slayer. The crowd was enthusiastic, but there was a lot of chatter within the crowd. Phones were more typically being used to check Facebook statuses rather than filming the set. Nevertheless, the band pushed through. Frontman Ian Astbury gave a curious performance. He would grab his tambourine and give it a few timeless hits before tossing it aside indiscriminately. Seemingly picking it up just to have something to do between his vocal parts, Astbury seemed not all together focused on this night. Perhaps attributable to technical difficulties, on more than one occasion Astbury wasn’t quite hitting his spots. Guitarist Billy Duffy was terribly loud in the mix, but you obviously didn’t have any trouble hearing his leads and solos. Duffy was in fine form and seemed to be the only one on the stage even acknowledging the crowd. At one point the bassist pointed out to Astbury a young fan on his parents shoulders near the front of the stage. By the time Astbury figured out what was going on the band had already kicked into the next song.
The Cult played a decent set that was mired in bad sound. It’s always difficult to know who to blame; be it Houston Open Air or the Cult’s live crew, but the quality of the performance suffered. It was cool to hear some of these classics, but this was definitely the set of the day that I didn’t mind missing parts to recharge with food and drink.
– J. Kevin Lynch