The Cult at Portsmouth Guildhall REVIEW: 'Billy Duffy is the very epitome of guitar hero cool'

Openers The Last Internationale are a fine heavy blues-rock trio.

Wednesday, 30th October 2019, 9:41 am
The Cult at Portsmouth Guildhall, October 29, 2019. Picture by Paul Windsor

Vocalist/bassist Delila Paz, has charisma to burn, and their take on Sam Cooke’s standard A Change is Gonna Come is a smouldering call to arms. 

Judging by the response they get here, they’ve made a few new friends.

It would be good to see what they can do in their own headline slot.

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Ian Astbury of The Cult at Portsmouth Guildhall, October 29, 2019. Picture by Paul Windsor

Cards on the table time, this tour is to mark the 30th anniversary of The Cult’s Sonic Temple album, and it is an album I played incessantly in my youth. It saw the band at their most unashamedly hard-rocking and anthemic. 

I love it.

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The Cult look back at 30 years of Sonic Temple ahead of playing Portsmouth Guild...

And judging from the sold-out crowd here at the Guildhall, I am not alone. It’s been some time since the British rockers – long-since relocated to LA – have troubled the charts, but as this tour has proven, they still very much have an audience.

And when the bass line of opener Sun King begins, the hairs do stand on the back of my neck. 

It may be the first song on Sonic Temple, but this is not a ‘play the album’ show. Anyone expecting that is wrong-footed by the next number, Wild Flower, another classic rocker, but from their Electric album.

From there it is back into Sonic Temple territory, as the next six tracks are from the 1989 opus. There are the obvious singles, Sweet Soul Sister and Edie (Ciao Baby), as well as lesser-played cuts, like a grooving Automatic Blues, the hard-riffing New York City, and an extended Soul Asylum – which up until this anniversary tour hadn’t been played live since the album’s original supporting dates.

On this closing night of the tour, frontman Ian Astbury is in good humour – better than he has reportedly been on other nights. The shades remain on for the duration, and he is still a consummate rock star. Long-term Astbury watchers will know he’s a serial tambourine abuser, and tonight is no exception. There’s even an impressive over-the-head toss and back-heel kick into the wings for a tambourine at one point.

That distinctive voice, however, has lost none of its power, and is still able to hit the notes, even though some of the phrasing seems oddly clipped at times.

Meanwhile his foil and Cult co-founder, Billy Duffy is the very epitome of guitar hero cool. 

If you stuck a long-haired wig on him, he’d still cut the same figure as on the cover of Sonic Temple cover – legs splayed, arm windmilling. He makes it all seem effortless as he peels out the riffs and impeccable note-perfect solos. 

Curiously, though, it is not until the end of the Sonic Temple section of the show when they play old single Rain that the crowd kicks it up a notch and a mosh pit forms.

It’s followed by their debut single Spiritwalker, from their more psychedelic days, way back in 1984. 

There are a couple of tracks from their 2001 album Beyond Good and Evil, Rise, and American Gothic. The latter of which Billy comes to the mic to introduce with a laugh as ‘Ian’s favourite song, in case you’re wondering why we’re playing some obscurity from Beyond Good and Evil.’

It’s the heaviest number of the night, but it does noticeably dampen the audience’s ardour.

That’s as recent as they come. There’s nothing from their last three albums.

The main set finishes with a swaggering Fire Woman, Sonic Temple’s biggest single, and a nicely crunchy Love Removal Machine.

The inevitable encores are a spritely Lil’ Devil (most recently known for advertising Easyjet), and the rock club staple She Sells Sanctuary, it’s power undimmed by familiarity and it finishes the night on an appropriate high.

As the lights come up, Duffy thanks the fans, saying: ‘We’re nothing without you’, and it sounds sincere.

And before they leave Astbury hints at new music in the pipeline. Here’s hoping this tour has found them reenergised.