I arrived early to The Fillmore eager to witness this latest incarnation of The Cult on their 'Destroying L'America/Nomads' tour. Reviews of earlier dates had been mixed, particularly an unflattering description of their June 5th Luna Park show in Sydney, but I remained enthusiastic. This is a band I grew up with and their unique approach to hard rock struck a chord with me at an early age.
But little throughout the evening went as anticipated. The band pass list did not arrive until 6:45pm, and doors opened at 7pm, so I killed time next door in the State Bar and Grill reading Brett Callwood's recent Metro Times article on 'Celldweller'.
The list eventually arrived. I was admitted, checked my briefcase and coat, and proceeded to secure a meaningful place directly in front of the stage. For most concerts at the Fillmore, I'm content to sit mezzanine, but not this one. I orchestrated a blood vow with the other die-hard standing next to me, that no one would get through us to the handrail.
Let me preface the remainder of this article by admitting, like Ian Astbury and fellow founding member guitarist Billy Duffy, I am aging. I have less tolerance, less patience, for juvenile stupidity. Or perhaps I'm merely more conscious of it. In Europe, throwing a full beer at a guitar player in certain circumstances is actually a show of respect. Well in Detroit, it's a sign you're a dumb ass. Despite excellent aim, two nitwits hurling beer ($5 a cup!) managed to miss members of both bands.
My obsession with being entrenched at the front rail resulted in a dubious honor. Some overly aggressive young woman, drunk and high on, what Ian referred to during the concert as 'jazz cigarettes', spent the first three Black Ryder songs humping me like I was her drug dealer in a largely pornographic effort to secure a spot at the front rail.
Two rows of bodies behind her, a near brawl broke out over someone touching someone else somewhere. . . you know how these things go. Some uppity jackass said something flattering about the size of the hooters on the other guys wife. Except this is The Cult and the median age in the front twenty rows was 45 and up, or my name is Captain Kangaroo. Most of us adults have outgrown our ass-kicking teenage years, and simply want to enjoy the show. At a My Chemical Romance concert, I can better understand today's restless youth, filled with Milwaukee's best and hallucinogenics, gently settling disagreements with beer and fists. But The Cult crowd more resembled parents who will be driving their kids to My Chemical Romance.
Australian support act The Black Ryder were a pleasant surprise. I wasn't familiar with Scott Von Ryper and the exquisite Aimee Nash's shoegaze music, but they easily won over The Fillmore crowd with their enthusiasm and the eerie Stone Roses meets The Cure approach to tempo and drone. Their subdued songs and dark melodies are thick with sex and haunting in a bizarrely addictive manner. Check out the track 'Gone Without Feeling' from their 2009 album 'Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride' for a clearer understanding. My only criticism of this group: You're on this tour to generate interest for your band, to win new fans. If a few of them are in the front row, howling for a pic, accommodate them. Small effort, large reward.
The Cult, or should I say Ian, Billy, and the current crew of backing musicians they have in place, did their best, despite several considerable factors working against them. One is age, they simply don't have the energy to push it like they used to and that's fine. Fan's will temper their expectations, as both Astbury and Duffy are nearing 50. Two, they haven't released a decent album since 2001. You obsessives that argue Born Into This is a 'great' album can kiss me on my pale white butt cheeks. It's mediocre, especially when held up to 'Beyond Good & Evil' or 'Electric'. Three, they're nearing the end of this leg of the tour, and it has been a grueling three years of touring for the band.
Still, it all contributed to a slightly uneven show, that alternated between satisfyingly energetic and tired.
Opener 'Every Man And Woman Is A Star' an excellent new track that could easily have been an outtake from their self-titled 1994 album. Sometimes unfamiliar tracks snuff out the fire before it gets a chance to smolder, but this track is accessible and got the crowd primed. They surprised everyone with an energetic revisit of 'New York City' from 'Sonic Temple' and, highlight of the evening, a stellar reworking of 'White' from 'Ceremony'. 'White', in my opinion, has never received the critical prominence it's due, and it was encouraging to see this forgotten chestnut back into the limelight. Also, their stirring new song 'Embers' showed nearly the same promise as “Every Man & Woman' and was performed with equal ferocity. New material seemed to genuinely reinvigorate the band, albeit temporarily.
After some early heat, the show descended into the typical Greatest Hits template. 'Sweet Soul Sister' despite being one of the big four from Sonic Temple, falls flat. 'Lil Devil' is performed with what appears to be the minimal amount of effort possible. However, during 'She Sells Sanctuary', Billy excels and I became 11 again, sitting in an apartment in Union Lake, Michigan mesmerized by a cassette copy of 'Love'. 'Fire Woman' ignites the crowd and I am 15 again, roaming the hallways, a high school degenerate, with 'Sonic Temple' in the Sony Walkman. “Spiritwalker' makes the set list, but despite showcasing the talents of hired hand drummer John Tempesta, it's a stale effort overall.
With 'Wildflower', a good portion of this crowd sang along word for word, and responded joyously as Aimee Nash joined the band onstage with a tambourine. But, one couldn't escape the obvious sense during 'Nirvana', that the energy was rapidly evaporating. Ian valiantly attempted to motivate the crowd, hurling tambourines into the audience, and offering the microphone to enthusiastic fans to sing along. He praised Detroit fans for our resilience in the face of economic turmoil, but everyone who still bothers to add Detroit to their tour does that.
Predictably, they encored with a standard performance of 'Love Removal Machine'. Mercifully, the overplayed 'Edie' was left off the set list.
The hard truth is Ian's voice was ragged and he missed or skipped lyrics, often appearing out of breath particularly on 'Rise'. He's gained weight, grown his beard and hair back out, and was in full latter years Jim Morrison parody. It certainly isn't Ian's fault that he happens to resemble James Douglas Morrison when sprouting the shaggy look. But when you tack on in the aviator sunglasses and the Native American dancing on stage straight out of Oliver Stone's The Door's movie, somewhere up in rock and roll heaven, Jim's rolling his eyes.
I do not exaggerate when I add Billy seemed completely disconnected from what was going on, almost the entire set. He went to great lengths to avoid making eye contact with anyone in the crowd, focusing on instrumentation, and consistently appearing as if he couldn't care less.
Look folks, it's no secret I love The Cult and have since first hearing 'She Sells Sanctuary' in 1984. I love Detroit and have since 1973.
But what happened after the concert ended, was the most unprofessional display by both artist AND concertgoers I've seen in some time. After waiting inside The Fillmore for forty-five minutes, only rhythm guitarist Mike Dimkich appeared. He spoke with some attractive locals he was well acquainted with and sourly ignored the rest. It was then explained to the remaining pass holders, the rest of the band would be 'making an appearance' over at the State Bar (where, conveniently, anyone with a driver's license could enter). What in the hell was the point of a backstage pass ? As we made our way to the bar, I hung close to one of Ian's local friends who was texting him directly, trying to get a straight answer amidst all the chaos.
After another twenty minutes of confusion and waiting, with no one in the bar knowing what was happening, Ian made a abbreviated appearance. He was there long enough to hug the aforementioned friend, and then all hell seemed to break loose. Not everyone in the bar was there for The Cult, in fact a rather disturbing group of suburban idiots seemed convinced that Ian was actually John Mellencamp, who happened to be performing next door at the Fox. From there, the behavior of a majority of the Detroit fans in the State bar can only be described as fucking appalling. Few were patient, respectful, and waiting politely for a moment to interact with Ian. Most behaved like oversexed orangutans feuding over the last banana.
I was embarrassed to be there, embarrassed to be from Detroit. Even when Kwame Kilpatrick publicly melted down and we were the laughingstock of the world, I wasn't this embarrassed. After being patient enough to sign an autograph for a 9 year old girl who was required to wait with her parents outside the front doors to the State Bar (liquor control laws), overzealous admirers began grabbing Ian, yelling out that it was their birthday and to take pictures with him. Some didn't bother asking, they just threw one arm around him and snapped their cameraphones. It was utter chaos.
It took five minutes for the breaking point to arrive, and Ian hustled out the back of The State bar with Billy's guitar tech, to the safety of the tour bus. Bassist Chris Wyse remained in the bar, but my impression was other than some female admirers, few realized or cared who he was. Those of us who had been polite and patient, who waited all evening for a moment to shake hands with one of our musical inspirations, got completely fucked. While I'm disgusted with the startling neanderthal behavior of some fans, it was completely unprofessional and inappropriate to move us out of the secured area inside the Fillmore, to a bar.
Some of Ian's response, I can partially understand:
For him and Billy, two men who have platinum records, who once filled stadiums with the mainstream hordes clamoring to hear 'Fire Woman', the downside of rock has been a bumpy ride. No record label, financing your own tours, and belligerent concertgoers throwing beer at you. Anyone in those shoes, would be annoyed with their reversal of musical fortune, and frosty towards aftershow engagements.
But, I simply expect more and better from a band charging $30 to download TWO new songs. I expect musicians who have already received (minimum) $2500 of my money over the last twenty years, in concert tickets, t-shirt, posters, record/CD/EP/CD singles/DVD sales, etc, to take a minute, shake my hand, sign a $25 t-shirt I just bought, and if there's enough reasonable time, pose for a picture. When you say 'Meet and Greet', guess what? I expect to meet and greet the artist. Particularly if said musicians are trying to slowly rebuild a disintegrating fan base, show by show. Otherwise don't make Aftershow passes available.
Why you may ask, do I have such high expectations ?
Becasue people like me, make Ian Astbury rich. People like me, allow him to forgo a life washing dishes in a Hamilton, Ontario Tim Hortons, so he can tour the world pretending he's in The Doors.
The Fillmore was half empty for this concert. And, only about twelve us with Aftershow Passes remained waiting in a secured area. Hardly a mob. I don't expect musicians to endure an unsafe environment, or placate every nut job who demands an autograph. But, there's a right and wrong way to engage your true fans. This was a textbook example of how to half ass an after show meet and greet and alienate your well-meaning, lifelong supporters.
for the DRB