Many bands claiming the '80s as their point of origin have serious hurdles to overcome. There's the hair, the brittle, overblown production values of the day, the quarter-of-a-century passed since most of those bands claimed their heyday.
The Cult, performing before a capacity crowd in the Town Ballroom on Tuesday evening, faced none of these problems. The band -- headed by vocalist Ian Astbury and his creative partner, guitarist Billy Duffy -- always looked, sounded and acted cool, even in the '80s. And cool hasn't gone out of style since rock 'n' roll first reared its head.
The Cult made it big in the midst of the alternative era, and benefited from the fact that Astbury and Duffy were wise enough to couch what has always been, essentially, '70s-style hard rock in a slightly "gothy," alternative cloak. Because of this, the band has much less to outlive than, say, Guns 'n' Roses, a group so synonymous with bad hair and overblown song arrangements that no amount of scaling down could possibly deflate the mighty beast of pomposity.
On Tuesday, Astbury and Duffy led their new band -- complemented by new bassist, drummer and second guitarist -- through a tour of their greatest successes as an ensemble.
Astbury, fresh from his controversial stint as Jim Morrison's "replacement" in recent versions of the Doors, still packed the majority of the bluesy, soulful vocal punch that elevated the Cult to a status similar to that held by timeless purveyors of blues-based hard rock AC/DC -- meaning that the band's blend of Aerosmith-like boogie and exotic, soul-man-on-a-bender stylings has never gone out of style, since the days when the Yardbirds, Who and Stones ruled.
Most likely, judging by Tuesday's crowd, it never will.
The Cult, 2006 version, seemed more than pleased to give the people what they wanted -- plenty of the band's flawless trilogy of late '80s, early '90s releases, "Love," "Electric" and "Sonic Temple."
Astbury was in strong vocal form, though the tour has worn on him a bit; early feedback problems with the house PA exacerbated what seemed at times to be a hoarse throat. No worries, though. The man rose to the occasion, offering full-throated versions of tunes the folks definitely wanted to hear -- "Fire Woman," "Sweet Soul Sister," "Gone" and "Spiritwalker" among them.
Duffy, though he had tough competition from Astbury, stole the show. His extremely bluesy, pentatonic-based solos fit the bill every time, and his guitar sound -- vintage all the way, with old Marshall stacks and Gretsch and Gibson guitars the only in evidence -- was nothing short of sublime. No one plays "Billy Duffy style" quite as well.
Astbury and his longtime partner, bolstered by a sterling rhythm section, came closest to heaven when they pulled tunes from "Love" and "Electric," two of the finer hard-rock offerings this side of Zeppelin and the Who. "Wildflower," "Peace Dog" and "Lil' Devil" -- particularly that last one -- brought "Electric" front and center, and most in attendance would doubtless agree that it's been far too long.
"Love" was represented by the title tune -- a high point, and one of Astbury's many glowing performances of the night -- the rhapsodic sing-along "Rain," the menacing "Phoenix," and the still-pertinent "Revolution."
A fine performance from a truly great band. Once the sound problems were cleared up early on, it was smooth sailing. Outstanding.
Tuesday night in Town Ballroom