The Cult Ritualize The Warfield
The Warfield Theater
November 17, 2022
Photos by Raymond Ahner
The Cult stormed through the hallowed Warfield in San Francisco, ripping a hole in the space-time continuum to reconstruct the Market Street theater into their own Sonic Temple of ritual rock for a packed house congregation of old-school fans.
The result was a highly volatile spell of musical thunder and lightning conjured by mercurial lead singer Ian Astbury and partner-in-crime guitarist Billy Duffy, along with the current manifestation of The Cult (bassist Charlie Jones, drummer John Tempesta, multi-instrumentalist Damon Fox).
Through the years, The Cult has been an enigma. Great rock bands inherently come with unpredictable personalities, egos, and actions. The Cult is no exception, and some may argue that Astbury (who sported a big hat and long coat…making him look a bit like he just stepped off of a commercial fishing boat) would score the band high on all three of those barometers all by himself.
At one point in the show he opined about the good old days…playing at the I-Beam on Haight Street, and copping dope in the Tenderloin. He even went so far as to state that “psychedelics are mother nature’s AI.”
The singer has always been a bigger than life personality, proudly wearing the labels of rock star, shaman, revolutionary, and just an overall trippy dude. He had all of the aforementioned on display on this evening in which The Cult affirmed their status as alternative music trailblazers; building a nexus between glam, death rock, punk, and helping pave the way to what would become grunge
Though they lifted off with a fresh take on the somewhat obscure ‘Rise’ (Beyond Good and Evil – 2001), the evening’s set was primarily a shuffling of songs from their three most celebrated recordings: the darkly psychedelic Love (1985), the stripped down, in your face rock of Electric (1987), and Sonic Temple (1989), arguably the signature album in their discography.
The next trio of songs amped up the energy and set the tone for the rest of the set, as the longtime songwriting duo of Astbury and Duffy focused on Sonic Temple.
When the serpentine intro of ‘Sun King’ started with its tribal stomp, Astbury took over to the delight of those in attendance, sounding in fine voice and powerfully belting out his legendary soaring vocals over Duffy’s churning guitar riffs.
Next up was the slippery groove of ‘Sweet Soul Sister,’ highlighting the sublime interplay between Astbury’s vocal inflections and Duffy’s emotive guitar playing. By the time ‘Edie (Ciao Baby)’ started, the crowd was all in, many swirling around dancing and mouthing the words in time.
From there it was a blur of Astbury in his poet/frontman element. Stalking the stage and harnessing the electricity of the crowd, while Duffy cranked out tons of majestic guitar crunch, the duo reminded San Francisco why the band is so important to the evolution of rock music.
The Cult showed renewed vigor and hunger as a band, delivering a powerhouse performance. Even so, the performance did not go off completely smoothly. As The Cult looked to punctuate the main set with a couple of underground hits off of the Love album (which helped put them on the map), the specter of rock unpredictability emerged.
After ending ‘Rain’ the band immediately pushed into ‘She Sells Sanctuary’. Somewhere in the transition Astbury got lost and started to again deliver lyrics from ‘Rain.’ That went on for a good minute and a half, luckily the band pressed on until he was able to pull out of the nose dive.
The dilemma was somewhat understandable in that the structure and keys of those songs are similar, but it was a gaffe nonetheless that an embarrassed Ian admitted to. He even looks cool when he messes up.
The encore set had Astbury giving a ‘gift’ to the crowd, as the Cult played a brand new song in a live setting for the first time, rolling out the solemn ‘Vendetta X,’ which is a pulsing chunk of rock that is a rally cry to action.
Closing the night with the anthemic rock of ‘Love Removal Machine’ members of The Cult took a bow and soaked in one last ovation before departing into the darkness.
Music fans need to be aware of the evening’s opening band King Woman. Led by otherworldly lead singer Kristina Esfandiari, this sextet fuses heavy, brooding, down tuned doom with a shoegaze aesthetic to arrive at a moody, 10-ton sound that is as equally brutal as it is beautiful.
Esfandiari has a perplexing delivery that mesmerizes. She has an unassuming shy girl innocence to her look….almost like she is surprised anyone is paying attention. However, peeking out from behind long uneven locks piled under her hoodie, she hypnotized the crowd with her powerful, heavy-handed vocal delivery which is reminiscent of the legendary Dawn Crosby (RIP) from the underground bands Fear of God and Detente.
King Woman has a huge, pummeling, ethereal sound that leans on a fuzz-drenched layered wall of guitar sound which is thick as molasses and knitted together by frenetic percussion.
Watching King Woman take over the early crowd (who it seemed were mostly previously unaware of the band) was enthralling. Kristina Esfandiari is a true talent and a star in the making.
King Woman are definitely worth a close look, and their recent release Celestial Blues is a must have for fans of this genre. Go see them.