House of Blues
October 31, 2015
On Halloween night at House of Blues, the Cult kept fans in suspense until 10:30 p.m. It was a long wait, especially since doors were supposedly at 6 p.m. Conflicting reports flew as to when the band would finally appear. After much speculation and anticipation from the audience — even a near revolt as some fans wondered if we were witnessing a cancellation — the veteran UK rockers finally took the stage in full form.
It couldn't come soon enough for Houston's Cult fans, who had arrived enthusiastically in costume. Undoubtedly buzzed and festive from the long wait and three working bars, they were here to party. The crowd was a medley of Halloween guises: a variety of Day of the Dead faces, a Warren Moon lookalike, He-Man and several HPD
That man, vocalist Ian Astbury, performed his best Lizard King impression — again — fully clad in black, leather and sunglasses, shaking a tambourine. I suppose that’s why he’s also credited as the band’s percussionist; go figure. The Cult played a precise yet formulaic set to a packed house, performing each song to near perfection. Clearly, masters of their own music, the group has no doubt had years of practice. And those nearly seamless songs were no different than if I heard them on the radio — exact facsimiles, to the note.
Although many fans adore this seemingly perfect execution of music they’ve heard a thousand times before, despite my best efforts to remain engaged and entertained, I found myself bored and slightly irritated that my Halloween evening was spent with only mild interest in the activities onstage.
Fans everywhere from the smoking porch to the balcony applauded, roared, danced and sang every lyric to every song. The floor literally bounced from the movement when the Cult began the opening riffs of “Fire Woman." Yet my lack of interest kept nagging at me.
The Cult as a band is quite extraordinary. Guitarist Billy Duffy was incredibly solid moving into his most famous riffs with the kind of ease exuded by a professionally astute and gifted musician. Filling in on bass, Jimmy Ashhurst (formerly of Buckcherry) performed amazingly well. And drummer John Tempesta (formerly of Exodus, Testament and White Zombie) rounded out the drums.
I couldn’t help wondering if Tempesta ever feels as if he’s in a cover band. Moving from metal to rock, from technically complex music to the more straightforward and clinical interpretation, does he ever feel well, you know, bored? (Like I was…)
No drummer is safe in The Cult since they’ve been through at least ten. It's about the same number of bass players; Ashhurst must know he’s on the temporary dole. I couldn’t shake these thoughts as I listened to the Cult's songs in all their flawlessly performed replications. I blame it squarely on the runaway explosive set of We Were Wolves.
While I should be writing more about The Cult and all the things they did well — and there were many — what I really want to write about is We Were Wolves. Maybe that’s because I’ve heard all of The Cult’s songs, as I have heard for many years. Haven’t we all?
There was something refreshing and novel from the Houston band, who took the stage with the predatory energy of a surprise attack. Completely caught off-guard by an opener whose presence was alluring and whose songs were musically original, I was compulsively and delightfully possessed by their performance.
They seemed untouched and totally unique, unspoiled by any overarching influence or mimicry...of, oh, I don’t know...Jim Morrison. My attention was seized; I could not pull myself away. With a stage presence that moved the entire crowd forward, their highly charged, quick-hitting and magnetic tunes quite simply captured the attention of everyone in the room. No wonder they were nominated for Best Rock Act at this year's HPMAs.
Playing mostly tracks from their latest EP, Ruin Your Weekend, We Were Wolves sustained an incredible energy throughout the entire set. Hearing songs like “Eye” and “She’s Alone” made my night consummately more entertaining than if the Cult had never played.
Humbly grateful and thanking the House of Blues and the Cult for their opportunity to play the show, the openers made a surprising contrast to the ego that would soon follow. No wonder the Cult couldn’t keep my interest. Their tired, 20-year-old radio hits were not only anticlimactic after We Were Wolves, they were a real disappointment.
Add to that Astbury's sarcastic and cheeky appraisal of Houston music, and I’m done. “I’d like to thank DJ Screw and the entire Houston hip-hop scene…Thanks to Screwston for everything they’ve done; you know, they all really helped me and my last album…”
Excuse me, did you really just throw shade on my city and our scene?
Let me get this straight, a guy whose claim to fame is impersonating Jim Morrison is critiquing the original, ground-breaking, superlative Houston rap scene? Go home, Cult.
Back arched and claws retracted, I impatiently sat through four more mentions of “our upcoming new album." Plug away, Astbury; do you know anyone who’s purchased a new Cult album in the past ten years? Me neither.
Twice he reminded us of his Jim Morrison-impressionistic tour with the Doors, giving the feeling the Cult were a side project and his main dish is really pretending to be someone who died in 1971. At what point will fans stop praising him for ripping off a dead performer? There’s nothing romantic in a good impersonation. It’s just an homage, but Astbury has been paying homage so long, it rings of a sad parody. I concede the Doors and Jim Morrison — and even The Cult — have their respective places in music and those places are important, but the fact is, those days are over.
Impersonations are for Vegas, not Houston.
We Were Wolves rock Houston Whatever Fest Saturday, November 21 at EaDo Party Park near Warehouse Live.