Surveying the crowd gathered for The Cult’s stop on its We Own the Night Tour in Huber Heights, Ohio, this past Friday, it was clear that the band’s fanbase can be divided into two tribes: those whose appreciation of the group stems from the goth-tinged psychedelia of early records like Love and Dreamtime (and perhaps those done under the Death Cult and Southern Death Cult monikers), and those who discovered The Cult through the metal-leaning rock overdrive of later records like their Top 10 hit Sonic Temple.
But while the latter was perhaps in greater abundance (not surprising given the Rose Center’s location off a highway exit somewhere between Columbus and Dayton), it seemed The Cult was catering to the former—if not with its setlist, then certainly in its choice of openers. Longtime Agit fav Zola Jesus (pictured below) opened the show with a dramatic set showcasing songs from her mesmerizing new record, Arkhon along with a smattering of cuts from her back catalog. Moving around the stage like a whirling dervish, the singer clearly caught the attention of the slowly gathering crowd as she ran through songs like “Lost” and “Undertow” from the new album. Indeed, it would be hard to ignore her soaring vocals—even for those intent on hearing the headliners play “Fire Woman”—when she sang, “You should know I would never let you down,” during “Soak” from 2017’s Okovi. Meanwhile, “Night” with its mounting tension and thunderous rhythms was enough to elicit goosebumps.
Following Zola Jesus was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (pictured below). It’s been awhile since the trio has been active (its website still advertises 2018’s Wrong Creatures as “the new album”) so it was hard to know what to expect. The band quickly showed that whatever cobwebs there may have been have long been blown out, delving into its catalog to focus on material mainly from its first few albums. Their Stones-cum-JAMC mix of blues tones and shoegaze guitar haze was the perfect tonic to the ennui hangover of the past few years. “Six Barrel Shotgun” was a blast of r’n’r vitriol, while the stomp of “Spread Your Love” felt cathartic. Guitarist Peter Hayes and bassist Robert Levon Been traded vocals and instruments intermittently throughout while Leah Shapiro pounded her skins with verve behind them, culminating in waves of melody and noise that fired the synapses like some kind of aural amphetamine.
After the requisite time between bands, The Cult (pictured top) entered on a dimly stage and launched into “Rise,” a song from Beyond Good and Evil (from 2001) that straddles the psych tones of early records and the metallic riffs of its later work. In other words, a perfect way to start. From there, it was five songs in a row from Sonic Temple—“Sun King,” “Automatic Blues,” “Sweet Soul Sister,” “Soul Asylum,” and “Edie (Ciao Baby)—perhaps not surprising given that the band’s last tour was in celebration of the album’s 30th anniversary. Here, guitarist Billy Duffy, who is the centerpiece of that album’s cover, showed that his guitar playing is as fiery as ever, while singer Ian Astbury sounded ageless, particularly on “Edie.” Still, a little more variety would have been preferable, especially given that we didn’t hear “Spirit Walker,” a Dreamtime set staple in recent years.
The band then fast-forwarded to the present, with its recently released new single, “Give Me Mercy.” Despite the unfamiliarity, the plaintive track was a high point of the night, especially in comparison to the sluggish run through “Wildflower” that followed. “Fire Woman” was next and excited the crowd, most of whom knew every word. With that out of the way, Astbury, Duffy, and company revisited Love with a trio of songs beginning with “Revolution” and followed by the requisite runs through “Rain” and “She Sells Sanctuary.” The band exited the stage before quickly returning for “Love Removal Machine,” which was as adrenalized and potent as ever. To say they left them wanting more might be stating the obvious, but as Ian explained, there was a curfew. Nevertheless, if they could have pulled out at least one surprise, the performance might not have seemed so by the numbers. Cumulatively between the three bands, however, the night was as solid as it was diverse.