You've really got to hand it to The Cult.
Getting The Icarus Line and Against Me! to open was a strange move, but it speaks well of them.
First off, you have to be pretty down with a certain subjection of grimy, noisy punk rock for The Icarus Line to even be on your radar, and plenty of veteran bands would be afraid to follow either of these dynamic, high-energy openers.
And that either band would want to lend The Cult some of their cool by opening for them is a good look.
The Cult didn’t — possibly couldn’t — go as hard as either of their openers at Terminal 5 on Friday. Too often the tempos felt leaden and the over-amped guitars implied a grandeur the band never truly achieved.
Billy Duff is a smart guitarist, still able to lace ‘70s dinosaur riffs with enough atmospheric edge to prove he’s bought something from the 4AD label, but the rotating roster of backing musicians The Cult have cycled through in their decades of existence has, at the moment, left them a group of hired guns that were content to play everything at the same competent but unimaginative stomp.
Which is not to say The Cult were without their loopy charms. New song “Lucifer” had an appealing snarl too it, and proved that this band hasn’t completely lost its grasp on ghostly texture. And you can’t really go wrong with “She Sells Sanctuary” either.
Singer Ian Astbury seemed to hold back at the beginning of the this defining , college rock-era hit, opting for low growls in place of the high-piercing of the original, but belted it out on the later choruses like a season pro, unafraid to lose his ability to speak for a few hours if it means giving the fans what they want.
While the music was generally solid, if only rarely inspired, Astbury’s between-song banter game was on point. He talked about coming to New York to play Danceteria in 1984, and thanked all the Puerto Ricans in the house for being the band’s first American audience. He dropped knowledge on spirituality and meditation, then bragged about stealing his band’s name from Blue Oyster Cult and then immediately threw shade on new jacks Cults.
“You can keep the ‘s,’ just give us back our name!” he said.
Opening the night was Los Angeles’ The Icarus Line, who were developing a name for themselves as one of the most confrontational punk bands around before their brilliant, unpredictable and oft-embattled guitarist Aaron North quit the band (he later played with Nine Inch Nails, got into a great deal of legal problems and recorded as-yet unreleased, long-delayed solo project ).
The Cult had their diehards and the Icarus Line earned plenty of “what the?” looks from people who just wanted to hear “Love Removal Machine,” but Against Me! walked away with the show before they even set foot onstage. The singer of Against Me! is undergoing a gender transformation, and fans were eager to come out and show support for the musician now known as Laura Jane Grace, yelling “we love you Laura,” many waving pride flags.
They also sang loudly to every single word of new, unreleased songs like "Black Me Out" and "True Trans Soul Rebel," both set for an upcoming album tentatively titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, as well as anthemic staples like “New Wave.” The “I wish I had been born a woman” part in “The Ocean” earned the biggest cheers of the entire night from where we stood, though the part where the band brought out Joan Jett for a duet on The Replacements’ classic “Androgynous” was one of those "only in New York" moments you hope you occasionally get to catch.
Grace, decked in high heels and earrings but as gruff-voiced as ever, was clearly grateful for the outpouring of support during this brave, vulnerable moment in her life, and seemed determined to show her appreciation the only way she knows how. Which is as fast and loud as possible.