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Cult following; Thursday at Harbor gets off to a rousing heavy rock start

The summer concert season kicked off not with a whimper but a mega-decibel bang Thursday, as the Buffalo Place Thursday at the Harbor season that's right, the harbor, not the square -- opened with a heavy rock triple bill headlined by the mighty and massive Cult.

Did anyone seem to mind that that free seasonal concert series had finally bid adieu to Lafayette Square and taken up full time residence at the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf?

If they did, they kept it to themselves. The turnout was massive, and the crowd appreciative of the blend of alt-punk and gothic-tinged hard rock that filled the air on the beautiful night.

The gathering was headlined by the British band the Cult, one of the meatiest alt-rock bands to emerge from the '80s, and based on Thursday's show, a band built to last.

Fronted by vocalist Ian Astbury -- a Brit who spent his teen years in Hamilton, Ont. -- and his songwriting cohort, guitarist Billy Duffy, the Cult would've blown the roof off the place if there had been one.

Full of vim and vigor -- at least by the second track, the new "Honey From A Knife," from the excellent "Choice Of Weapon" album -- the band offered a tour of its finest moments. Opener "Lil Devil," from the classic "Electric" album, kicked butt in spite of the fact that the band looked unsteady and tired, a touch shell-shocked. By the time the four-piece tore into the revered anthemic "Rain," from its storied "Love" album, the blend of heavy power chord rock, sturdy melodic lines, Astbury's throaty, sensual growl, and the dark tint of '80s goth had coalesced into a slamming sonic assault.

This carried through the set, as the group balanced new material like the well-received funk-metal burner "Lucifer" against its stadium-era hits "Fire Woman" and "Nirvana."

Astbury was a touch taciturn, but hilarious, as he read the sign atop First Niagara Center welcoming Roger Waters' "The Wall" show later in June, and sarcastically berating those who purchased tickets to the show as "suckers."

Later, he'd ask the crowd how many among them had purchased the new record, and when he didn't get the response he would've liked, he asked, "Do you know how hard it is to make a record?" The version of the new "For the Animals" -- one of the finest tunes of the band's career -- was delivered like a shovel to the back of the head. Awesome, in a word.

Opener the Icarus Line fared poorly by comparison. Led by singer Joe Cardamone, the Los Angeles outfit channeled the early punk agitation of the Stooges, threw in a little bit of Black Flag, added a ton of noise and feedback, and seemed to alienate the crowd.

The band was interesting, though. It's agit-punk bordered on the avant garde, and soothing the crowd didn't seem top be the band's aim.

Against Me! Brought a younger element to the party, and delivered a powerful, uber-tight set. Fronted by vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabel -- who last month revealed himself to be a transgender male poised to "become a woman" through hormone injections and surgical procedures -- the group was relentless in its pop-punk assault. Opener "True Trans Soul Rebel" dealt with Gabel's current concerns, but it was fist-raisers like "I Was A Teenage Anarchist" and "Sink Florida Sink" which brought the most rabid response from the crowd.

A great kick-off to what promises to be a killer season at the harbor.

email: jmiers@buffnews.com

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WHAT: Thursday at the Habor with the Cult, Against Me! and Icarus Line    

WHEN: Thursday at the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf