Nov 2, 2010

The Cult - Ram's Head Live

By Bob Suehs

www.rocknrollexperience.com

THE CULT

November 2, 2010

Baltimore, Maryland

The Cult started out as an artsy alternative band that had scattered elements of punk rock & psychedelia in their music but throughout the bands career they not only changed members frequently, but they also changed their sound as well.

Billy Duffy & Ian Astbury were the bands life blood & the 2 personalities that are Ian & Billy are what flavored the bands sound so distinctly...Billy's guitar riffs conjure up AC/DC styled rock n roll while Ian's flavor is an interesting mix of electronic music & indie rock.

The Cult split up for several years after turmoil between Duffy & Astbury came to a head, but the 2 were able to resolve all their problems & create music once more...The Cult still remain a vital & pivotal rock band in 2010 & at this point in the bands career they are not controlled by record labels, they are releasing music on their own terms & they currently have a new format for releasing music that they call the "Capsule" format.

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To support these "Capsule" releases The Cult toured and the band played the Baltimore area on November 2, 2010.

I had an interesting interview with Billy Duffy the day he was in Baltimore & he let me in on some of the bands secrets such as the fact that the main riff from "She Sells Sanctuary" was not originally finger picked, that it was plucked normally at first.

"She Sells Sanctuary" was recorded in the same studio that Led Zeppelin had recorded in & Billy had joked that it would be interesting to play a song with a violin bow ala Jimmy Page & when "She Sells Sanctuary" was being recorded Billy decided to use all his effects pedals & the producer suggested that he finger pick it & it worked out that way.

Little known fact, Billy uses the same guitar pic throughout an entire set & he started doing that because in the beginning he only had 2 guitar pics & one was given to him by Johnny Thunders.

Billy described the meeting with Johnny Thunders where he gave him a guitar pic as life changing & that very pic was a Herco, which is the same exact model that Billy plays with to this very day! Billy actually plays with the guitar pic sideways because he feels like the pic is too thin if it's played the regular way.

Billy also pointed out to me that he was not actually that fond of the "Ceremony" record & when the band record the self titled "CULT" record that they purposely stripped away everything that they were & lyrically Billy described Ian's approach writing as Ian trying to NOT be "Ian Astbury the rock star" on that self titled record...Billy stated that lyrically that record was very "revealing" for Ian.

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Playing with Jerry Cantrell in a cover band was something Billy enjoyed very much & he would love to do again at some point...Billy described both he & Jerry as "Meat & Potatoes" styled players who have alot in common.

The topic of the 2010 San Antonio show came up & Billy told me that the "issue" was that the band took the stage late & it was because they were not taking the stage till they were paid...it was a very sketchy situation where there were some behind the scenes money issues.

Billy detailed that he likes "Jack White" styled blues alot but could not see himself doing a guitar player gone wild styled blues record & on the topic of The Cult offering souvenir downloads of each concert on their tour Billy stated that he liked the idea of the fans being able to have a show that they had an emotional connection to, but he felt like Pearl Jam kinda killed the concept of a "Live" record by putting out so many live cd's...then again he went into detail that the live records he used to cherish so much from the 70's, in many cases, were not even live records, so it was a weird situation to realize a live record wasn't even live except for maybe a kick drum.

On the topic of Rick Rubin Billy said that he'd love to work with Rick again & that there's talk of maybe getting him to re-record a song off the "Electric" record because The Cult are talking about playing "Electric" live in it's entirety in 2012 to coincide with the anniversary of that record.

On the topic of how he keeps in good physical shape while on tour Billy stated, "Everything in moderation." & he pointed out that he exercises but he's not obsessed about it like touring guitarist Mike is...he said that Mike jogs 2 times a day, he keeps a log of his work outs & he even carries a bike on tour so he can ride his bike during the day.

Billy stated that there will be atleast 2 "Capsule" releases but he admitted that the format might not be the best idea...there's talk of the band recording a full length record when time allows for it, but for now the 2 "Capsule" releases are all that's planned & the reason for the "Capsule" releases is simply because it takes too long for the band to get together in the studio & record properly, because as Billy put it, "Without Ian there it's simply not The Cult!". Billy admitted that the "Capsule" format was not necessarily the best idea & that perhaps the band needs a record label to back them again.

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When I asked Billy why he went for a big bodied Gretch guitar he stated that the Gretch is "The Cadillac of guitars!" & he went into detail about how back in the day he had hung around The Stray Cats & was a huge fan of Brian Setzer & the guys & he wasn't totally into Rock-a-billy but he loved the sound that guitar had & he pointed out that he didn't use Gretch guitars on most of The Cult's records. The Stray Cats broke in the UK first so Billy was a fan of the band before they hit here in the States.

On the topic of "Fire Woman" being the bands biggest hit in the USA Billy said that he wasn't necessarily upset that it was the bands biggest hit in the US, but Ian Astbury was not fond of that fact...Billy pointed out that after Matt Sorum left the band that the song became one of the hardest to perform live for him because not only is Billy switching around between effect pedals but he also has to sing that really high part in the backing vocals & it's hard for him to hit that note while playing his guitar part which is why he lets Mike play some of the lead in that song so he can focus on hitting the high note simply because Ian is more of a baritone vocally & can't hit that high note. Billy stated that while he didn't believe "Fire Woman" was the bands best song, he was still happy to have that song be as big as it was because it's better to have a big song than to NOT have a big song.

On the current tour Billy stated that they have a set list they really enjoy & are not changing it for the most part because it works well & after doing the "Love Live" tour they didn't want to play many "Love" era songs..this tour has a good variety of old & new & some stuff that hasn't been played in quite a while.

When I arrived to the venue the crowd was very thin at first but by the time The Cult took the stage it filled in nicely.

Black Ryder were the opening act & the bands music was lo-fi in tone & I'd call their sound a mix of 70's styled stoner rock that also was heavily influenced by Shoe Gaze, Indie rock, & Sonic Youth!

The bands set was interesting but most people in the crowd said what I was thinking...this band did NOT fit the bill!

To Black Ryders credit, their set got better mid way through their short set & it wasn't because they were almost done, it was simply because their songs varied from simplistic to more groove oriented stuff & midway through their set they pulled out the songs that actually made you wanna move a little to the rhythm & the groove but Black Ryder are more suited for a younger crowd that's more into indie rock & less hard rock...in the US a CULT crowd is primarily a hard rock crowd so putting an indie rock band on the same bill is hit or miss depending upon how open minded the crowd truly is.

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There was well over 80+ minutes in down time between Black Ryders set & The Cult's set...this is where everyone started to get tired & the long wait made the working class crowd very restless. It's notable to point out that this show was on a Tuesday night & in Baltimore that equates to a work night or a school night for most rock fans...it also means that the crowds are usually smaller than normal because it's hard for the normal person to go out & party on a week night.

I think that was part of the reason why so many people were getting restless is because on a weekend it was no big deal for a band to take the stage around 9:45 PM but on a weeknight it's starting to push into sleep time for the next day when you have work or school the next day!

The Cult took the stage finally just around 9:45 PM & they opened with "Every Man.." off the bands new "Capsule #1" release & that song reminds me slightly of "The Witch" & it might explain why "The Witch" was not played this night!

The 2nd song of the night was the other new song off "Capsule #1", then the band broke out the classics!

Ian is always changing his looks every tour & these days he conjures the essence of Jim Morrison in his later years via a scruffy beard, long curly black locks, Ian didn't remove his black sun glasses the entire show, he tossed out a few tambourines during the show, he had 2 "tails" attached to the side of his pants as well as a black feather & the thing most people said this night was that Ian's vocals were very hard to hear no matter where you were in the venue.

On stage left was Billy Duffy's gear & that's where Mr. Duffy did the bulk of his rock n roll fervor while stage right was anchored down by Chris on bass & Mike on rhythm guitar....John Tempesta was dead center in the very back of the stage with a red sparkle flake drum kit that sported a single bass drum with THE CULT emblazoned on the bass drum head.

From the moment Billy Duffy took the stage he was complaining that he couldn't hear himself in his monitors, so when Billy's sound guy couldn't alleviate the problem Billy took matters into his own hands & walked back to his amps & cranked the amp volume knobs up louder on both amp heads & when he did that it was IMMEDIATELY noticeable that Billy's guitar was over powering everything!

I was actually directly infront of Billy for the entire show & what I will tell you, on a personal note, is that when Billy turned his amps louder you could not only hear the difference but you could feel the push from his amps....Billy's guitar was so damn loud that even with ear plugs in the volume hurt!

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"Rain" sounded amazing, "Sweet Soul Sister" was a nice addition to the current set list, but "Spirit Walker" was my personal favorite of the night & the best way I can explain why is simply that the band performed "Spirit Walker" with absolute passion, Tempesta played the hell outta his drums, Billy strummed with a fury & even though I had trouble hearing Ian's vocals, when I looked at him singing he was clearly enjoying himself & getting lost in the moment..that's what rock n roll is all about!

"Embers" was another new song the band performed & it's off "Capsule #2". "Embers" was a mellow song & some of the guitar parts are finger picked by Billy, but the most interesting fact about this song is that Billy plays it on a Fender Telecaster!

There was a guy in the crowd that yelled to Billy, "What the hell is that?" & Billy looked at the guy, then looked at the guitar & laughed. Billy Duffy is known for playing either Gibsons or Gretch guitars onstage so it was really interesting to see Billy playing a beat up old Fender Tele...the Tele added a different sound & vibe to what The Cult do & that was probably the most notable thing about this show, it was the first time this crowd had seen Billy play anything other than Gibson or Gretch guitars onstage!

"Rise" was performed & it was the only song played in Drop D tuning this night.

"Illuminated" was the only song played from the bands "Born Into This" record & the last few songs of the night were "Wild Flower", "Sanctuary", "Lil Devil" & the closer "Love Removal Machine".

The Cult don't rely on heavy production, the only flashy element they utilize is a large video screen that plays movies & flashes images behind the bands live show...the core of ANY Cult concert is Billy playing chunky guitar riffs & Ian flavoring it all with his emotional vocals.

This show was a fun one, the band played a nice selection of new & old, they gave the crowd a good show & it's interesting to note that Ian actually walked through the crowd before the show & no one even recognized him...even after the show was done, when Ian was back near the bands bus, the fans gathered back there to meet him did not even recognize him & it's definitely due to the fact that Ian keeps a very low profile, he's not playing the role of "Rock Star", he's an every day kinda man & he blends in well with things...I believe it's what makes the Cult such a working class kinda band, the main elements, Billy Duffy & Ian Astbury, they are average guys, they don't play the "rock star" role at this point & their music is written from a working class point of view.