Although perhaps their best days are long behind them, The Cult were a powerful live act in the 1980s and they’re still pretty good. I’ve seen them play several times, in London, New York, Austin and LA going back to 1983 and those shows were among the more memorable gigs I’ve ever attended.
Ian Astbury’s original group was called The Southern Death Cult and then just Death Cult. Their earliest music is more in line with Killing Joke perhaps, with a hefty dollop of Adam Ant thrown into the mix, too, little resembling the hard rock the group would be turning out by the late-80s.
Especially early on, the Cult’s rabid fan-base was so incredibly devoted that they’d follow the group around like unwashed punky Deadheads, night after night. Backpacks and sleeping bags were in (annoying) abundance at every show. The band could really capture the imagination of their followers who seemed like they were having a communal pagan religious experience watching them. Their shows did have a truly Dionysian drama to them that no other group I can think of achieved so totally and completely other than maybe Killing Joke. (It’s no wonder that the surviving Doors wanted Ian Astbury to be their front man, he was the obvious choice!)
I found their early concerts mesmerizing and unlike anything I had ever seen before. Or smelled. The Cult’s fans were among the first of the “New Age Travelers” (also called “Crusties” at the time) and a few hundred of them in one room without adequate ventilation was not something you’d care to get a whiff of, as anyone who saw them back then can attest to. Flagrant “BO” was an unavoidable element of a Cult gig in the early 80s. Probably 90% of the audience (including me) lived in squats. It was that kind of scene. Their shows always smelled just like McDonald’s hamburgers although I suspect many of their audience members then were some of the original vegans.
More after the jump…