CONCERT REVIEW : Death Cult – Barrowland Glasgow 12th November 2023

A dark symphony of rain played a sombre prelude on Glasgow’s roofs, promising a spectacular night at the ancient Barrowland ahead of Storm Debs. The city’s centre rang with the approaching footfall of Death Cult devotees, their ages spanning centuries, creating an overwhelming feeling of expectancy. Every step was a tribute to a legendary night 40 years and two months ago, when Death Cult made history with ‘Night Movies’ on September 12th, 1983. The sense of history was heightened by the fact that tonight’s event was sold out instantly, conjuring up a nostalgic whirlwind of the past while generating fresh narratives for rock history. The current Death Cult lineup: the formidable Ian Astbury, the explosive Billy Duffy, the intriguing Charlie Jones, and the dynamic John Tempesta, stood in the eye of this musical storm, ready to leave another unforgettable mark on Glasgow’s burgeoning music scene.

Lili Refrain, a wonderful talent from Roma, Italy, was a supporting act that made an impression on the audience. Her unusual music had already gained popularity after playing with The Cult during the summer, but her performance at Barrowland was a revelation for many in the Glasgow audience. Her captivating music, composed from a variety of samples and emphasised by her powerful vocals, charmed everyone in attendance during her first performance on the Barrowland stage.

Lili Refrain, a rising star in the music industry, began her concert in scintillating black outfit, her face concealed by a red and black mask. She took in the emotion of the room before diving into her act, creating audio samples from a drum she hammered passionately. The creepy regularity of the drumbeats, mixed with superimposed samples and her ethereal vocals, resulted in an enthralling synergistic masterpiece. Her introductory piece, “Ichor,” immediately drew the attention of everyone in the room. Lili Refrain’s distinct blend of ambient music and diverse vocal styles elicited a wide spectrum of emotions, captivating the crowd long after her brief but powerful show. Her concert included compelling performances of “Sangoma” and “Mami Wata,” before she ended her performance with “Earthling.” Her sincere thanks to the Glasgow audience were welcomed with a rousing ovation as she fled the stage, capping up a memorable and admired performance.

The eerie fog of dry ice gradually surrounded the stage as the stage crew methodically readied the setting, intensifying the anticipation for the arrival of the Death Cult. The electric atmosphere in the fully packed venue was amazing, with a definite current of excitement pulsing through the audience. The band members’ hazy shadows appeared through the fog as they took their spots during the intro to their set. The distinctive opening chords of “83rd Dream” echoed across the auditorium, a faithful reproduction of the Dreamtime live album version. Every note was excellent, resonating with the audience, which had become used to the band’s early EP tunes, particularly the superbly rendered “Christians.” The band dived deep into their back catalogue in a true celebration of their jubilee tour, led by Ian Astbury’s superb vocals. This concert was a tribute to their ardent followers, bringing to life timeless masterpieces that many had not heard live before. Fans were given the rare opportunity to engage with these songs, not just audibly, but physically, and relive the fervour of the band’s storied history, thanks to this emotional performance.

Fans of The Cult savoured every note, each chord reverberating in their souls as if it were their final breath as the captivating strains of Gods Zoo and Brothers Grimm filled the air. The first tracks established an enthralling atmosphere, with Ghost Dance sticking out as a memorable highlight. While others may be unaware with Gods Zoo and Brothers Grimm, Ghost Dance has long been a beloved classic, an anthem on the lips of those who followed The Cult in their early days. This famous single evoked warm recollections while encapsulating the band’s trademark sound, defining an era for die-hard fans.

The band’s Dreamtime era began with a flawless performance of ‘Butterflies,’ which set the mood for a thrilling rendition of ‘A Flower in the Desert.’ With each chord and song, Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury demonstrated delight, their mood visibly infectious as the listener was taken into their musical universe. “You never let me down,” Ian’s passionate greeting to the Barrowland audience is answered with a jubilant shout as the band launches into ‘Resurrection Joe,’ a cherished song from their Dreamtime album. The Glasgow audience excitedly sang along, riding the nostalgia wave. Every chord resonated with the audience, from the sad lyrics of ‘Horse Nation,’ which harkens back to their early gothic approach, to the anthemic ‘Go West,’ and ‘Hollow Man,’ from the Love album. The title track ‘Dreamtime’ was extremely noteworthy, as it signalled the start of a community sing-along that engulfed the crowd. The band was in fantastic shape, with the ancient songs resonating with incredible force.

The band’s mesmerising rendition of “Spiritwalker,” a magnificent composition from the Dreamtime album, unquestionably captivated the audience, making it an excellent precursor to a little interval before their encore performance. This song appears on their setlists from time to time due to its popularity, but its appearance in tonight’s show felt perfectly timed and well-received. The sad refrain of “Rain” from the Love album engulfed the auditorium as the ensemble switched to the following track, drawing an impassioned response from the audience. As the final chord resonated throughout the arena, Billy Duffy, the band’s charismatic leader, waved to the fans, signifying a brief pause before the rest of the band left the stage.

The band returned to their roots, recalling the beginning of their musical journey, as The Southern Death Cult’s renowned tune Moya resonated through the arena. The old chords brought back happy memories, and their powerful resonance was as enthralling as ever. An air of awe enveloped the room as listeners acknowledged the honour of hearing these iconic tunes live for the first time. Billy Duffy’s startling chords of She Sells Sanctuary, played on his White Falcon guitar, highlighted a wonderful moment in the evening. The crowd at Barrowland was instantly thrown into a rhythmic frenzy as they sung along with Ian, their united voices echoing the strong lyrics. This concert was a reminiscence of the band’s history, and the version of She Sells Sanctuary was the iceing on the cake, an ode to every die-hard Cult fan, making the night really unforgettable.

Ian Astbury lingered on the Barrowland stage, his gaze locked on the crowded arena, as John, Charlie, and Billy said their goodbyes. He exhaled his farewell into the microphone, a personal tribute to the city and the legendary venue he adored. The evening was significant for him since it served as both a physical and a temporal voyage back to the roots of The Cult, which was initially known as The Southern Death Cult. The genuine, unadulterated love of their musical journey triumphed above any pyrotechnics. Fans were transported back to the age of singles like “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Moya” as Billy Duffy’s distinctive guitar riffs echoed throughout the auditorium, reminding everyone present of The Cult’s ongoing evolution and growth.

Review by Karen Edmond

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