Gig review: The Cult at O2 Academy Leeds

Almost thirty-five years have whistled by since The Cult put their magnum opus of a song, She Sells Sanctuary, onto tape.

Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy of The Cult. Picture: Tim Cadiente

That almost ghostly, psychedelic intro that rattles into a propulsive post-punk explosion, it remains one of the defining cuts of the era, a time-capsule gem of guitars. Naturally, it arrives at the tail-end of something of a retrospective performance at Leeds’s O2 Academy for the group, much-changed since those halcyon days – but their performance is one that pays greater tribute to their subsequent sounds than their genesis.

Touring around the anniversary of their fourth record Sonic Temple, which celebrates three decades this year, it is a show geared more towards the conventional hard rock template they forged in that era, a cacophony of big riffs that supplanted the swirling stabs of other work.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The DNA is still there; album and show opener Sun King comes complete with an organ intro that winds its way around the venue with a hypnotic quality before erupting in to meaty slabs of guitar anthemics. It’s a musical cue that led singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy – the only two long-running members of the group – to come back to with greater success at other points, such as on the bedevilled strut of Sweet Soul Sister.

Astbury, a Merseyside man by way of Canada who formed the group in Bradford of all places, is on top frontman form throughout; in what is essentially as near as a hometown gig gets on this run of shows for the band, he strolls on behind thick shades and thrashes a tambourine around like he’s trying to somehow achieve flight.

If his voice can’t quite wail like it used to, he never outmatches himself; on Soul Asylum’s gothicism and the power balladry of Edie, he reins himself down a level or two to keep things tight.

It builds to the natural crescendo of the group’s two big heavy hits – the insatiable Fire Woman and Love Removal Machine. The former’s shimmying opening salvo is lost somewhere in a flatter, faster rendition, but the latter still blows up as a suitable finale with its histrionic outro.

Come the encore, Sanctuary arrives right on cue, less jangly and more straight-up walloping. It’s a fitting final cap for a show writ on doing things big.