9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2009
The story behind this release is a bit of a puzzle: the first CD of the package was originally included as a bonus for the UK release of the Pure Cult: For Rockers, Ravers, Lovers and Sinners video compilation back in 1993, along with a form to order the second CD. The album was subsequently released as a full package, but not worldwide. Cult fans have been forced to pay fairly abusive import prices for this little nugget ever since, so the question that I believe most people would want answered is: Is it worth it?
Well, I suppose that depends of your degree of "Cultdom": if you are a diehard (such as myself), you will enjoy this live album and will most likely want to shell out your hard earned money for it; if you're more of a casual fan, then it might be useful to read this review in full so you can (hopefully...) make an informed decision. Unlike their earlier "Dreamtime Live at the Lyceum" (yet another highly priced collector's piece) album, this one captures a band that despite having become a household name, has endured many trials to get there and bears the scars to prove it.
Indeed, years of riding high on the RN' R roller coaster took its toll as the band suffered the loss of bassist and founding member Jamie Stewart at the conclusion of the Sonic Temple tour (not to mention the defection of touring drummer Matt Sorum to GN'R). This fact, coupled with longstanding internal tensions and the upheaval in Ian Astbury's personal life resulted in the band, now reduced to a duo completed by guitarist Billy Duffy, becoming fractured.
Having once and for all cracked the American market and entered into the mainstream, the stakes were higher than ever for The Cult, as pressure to meet fan and critic expectations for the follow-up of Sonic Temple rose. As it turns out, the creative process that led to the release of Ceremony in September 1991 was anything but smooth: rumor has it that Ian and Billy didn't even meet in the studio during the recording sessions, such was the rift between the two.
And the fact that the music took (YET...) a (nother) left turn (as has always been the norm with these guys, even to this very day) instead of building upon the foundation laid by Sonic Temple to keep their momentum going didn't help matters in the least. Reception to the album was lukewarm at best.
But why do I bring all of this up while reviewing a live album?, you might wonder. Simple: understanding is everything, and in this specific case, understanding the context and the circumstances in which this album was recorded will definitely shed some light upon its musical merits.
Roughly 2 months after the release of Ceremony, the band was back at Marquee club in London, a venue that despite its legendary status, caters essentially 2 types of shows: a) those of young, hungry, up-and-coming artists (by far the majority of its shows) or b) those of major acts looking for an intimate setting. Needless to say, this concert falls into the latter category, right at the beginning of the Ceremonial Stomp tour, and judging by the fan reaction and the yelling heard between songs, some of the band's most fervent followers gathered for the occasion (more on this later).
The line-up for the occasion was completed with bassist Kinley Wolfe and (the late) drummer Michael Lee, who was snatched from Little Angels, at the time a hot up-and-coming british band. This rhythm section proves here that they packed quite a punch. For the most part Michael is great, pounding on his drums authoritatively, sometimes maybe a little "too" authoritatively for the sake of the band's sound, as I personally find that his style is better suited for the post-"Electric" material, maybe lacking a bit of finesse while playing the earlier material.
Kinley's playing is big surprise, though: unlike Jamie Stewart, he plays with fingers rather than with a pick, producing a much more "rounded", warmer sound that works pretty good except maybe on the "Electric" material that has a very sharp, snappy sound quality to it. But for all intents and purposes, the backing band works great and receives some unobtrusive but welcomed support from John Sinclair on keyboards.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of that evening was the set list: instead of showcasing the recently released "Ceremony", "Love" is the album that steals the spotlight, providing 7 out of 17 songs for the night and leaving out only 3 songs from the original album. Puzzlingly enough, "Sonic Temple", their most successful album up to that point, is practically ignored, and only "Fire Woman" makes the cut as the encore number.
I'll be completely honest with you: when I ordered the album on the internet, I just gave the set list a quick look and thought "yeah, that seems ok to me" and that was that. I didn't really notice how "Love"-heavy or how "Sonic Temple"- deficient it was until I received it and put it on! I was actually looking forward to a live version of "Sweet Soul Sister"... imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was missing!
While I find the omission of the "Sonic Temple" material odd, I can honestly say that I really enjoy the set list: Personally, I would have spread the "Love" content a bit more evenly throughout the show instead of having a whole "section" devoted to it, but bottom line, the set rocks, and it's always fun to hear how the interpretation of the material evolves over the years, and in the case of this band specifically, the evolution is brutal! Billy's effect rack is (for the most part...) gone, and he makes do with just a distortion and a couple more pedals. That change began during the "Electric" tour, but here the sound of the band is taken to new heights of heaviness, and depending of your personal tastes, this kind of sound can appeal more or less to you.
Me? Well...I don't particularly mind it, but as far I'm concerned, the main reason why The Cult is so unique and so great (and ultimately, why I love'em so much) is because of the distinctive sonic landscapes that they create for each one of their albums, and I feel that when you sacrifice subtlety and finesse in favor of brute power, something gets lost in translation...I would personally enjoy a more varied sound, one that more clearly shows the evolution of their sound over time...but hey, that's just me.
Although a lot of the nuances present in the original recordings are missing here, the material holds up pretty well, which really speaks volumes about its quality. Songs like "Rain" and "Nirvana" sound maybe a little too heavy for my personal taste, but others, such as "Spiritwalker", "Horse Nation", "The Phoenix", "Zap City" and "Revolution" are definite highlights. I particularly enjoy the inclusion of the excellent "Spiritwalker" and "Horse Nation", two of my favorite songs off "Dreamtime", and we get live versions of all three smash singles from "Electric" plus a delightful extra nugget in the form of "Peace Dog".
And while most fans don't care much for it, we also get a couple of tracks from the (then...) new "Ceremony": "Full Tilt" and "Earth Mofo". Again, the track selection seems a little weird: not that they aren't good (quite the contrary, actually, they work fantastically here and I honestly feel that they are among the highlights of the set...), but I can't help but wonder why they omitted their newest single, "Wild Hearted Son", an incredibly powerful song that would have worked great here. Maybe they altered the set list on the spot...
in the face of technical difficulties...? Indeed, barely past the first half of the show, Billy's guitar amps start giving him a hard time, which is most obvious during "Wild Flower", where his guitar sound just drops all of the sudden. Apparently things got worse a couple of tracks later and they had to stop to try and figure out what the problem was. Hence "Amplification Breakdown", a 5-minute break in the show that Ian uses to interact with the audience and while getting some shouted requests.
As I hinted earlier, it seems that some of the band's biggest diehards showed up for the occasion, asking to hear such obscure tracks as "Bonebag" or "Resurrection Joe"...and if you listen closely, you can even hear some freak yelling for Southern Death Cult's "Moya"...it doesn't get much more obscure than that, really... Unfortunately, and much to the dismay of the crowd, none of these songs had been rehearsed, prompting Ian to ask for "a more reasonable request..." I myself would have probably tried shouting for "Sweet Soul Sister" and maybe "Rider in the Snow" or "Flower in the Desert", just for the sake of obscurity...hehe...pretty funny interlude, though.
Admittedly, I'm a total Cult freak, and so I found myself enjoying the dirt out of this album: like all true great live albums, this one captures an honest, unadorned, powerful performance from a great band. It is by no means perfect, but that's a crucial part of its charm and appeal. As I mentioned early, the RN'R lifestyle took its toll, something that is most evident in Ian's vocals: he can still belt it out for sure, but the excesses robbed him of some of his higher range and consequently, he sounds pretty rough and the vast majority of the songs have to be played a full step lower than normal.
That may seem like a whole bunch of nonsense to some, but here are some facts: Ian was barely 31 at the time, and "Electric" had been released only 4 years earlier. And if you think that losing range by 31 is a fact of life, then you obviously haven't heard of Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio or Sammy Hagar.
Billy, on the other hand, is solid throughout: fast, loud, precise, ballsy; my biggest gripe about his playing is the aforementioned lack of nuances on some of the songs, which is most evident with the "Love" material but also on some other songs, such as "Love Removal Machine", which sounds overly saturated with distortion with Billy filling in the "blanks" that are an integral part of the song's structure. Don't believe me? Go to youtube and look for "The Cult Love Removal Machine Whistle Test 1987" and then you'll see what I mean.
Bottom line, this is a 3 ½ star-minimum release (4 in my opinion...): if you are a diehard, you need this. It sounds punchy, grungy, and ballsy but above all, honest and in your face, and the sound quality is pristine. If you're more of a casual fan, or if you are more into the nuances of their sound, then this release might leave you a bit disappointed. I, being a diehard who is into the nuances of their sound, can declare myself satisfied: I would have liked a bit more (I personally would have traded "Zap City" for "Sweet Soul Sister" but...oh well), but all quibbles aside, I definitely enjoy this and I don't regret getting it one bit. One more thing: I got this through Amazon's marketplace @ Beaches Entertainment and received the item (new) in mint condition and in a timely manner, no complaints.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2009
I have always been a Cult fan since Love came to the States, but really got into them with Electric and Sonic Temple. Found this album on Rhapsody,but have never seen it in stores. The few times I have seen it on eBay, etc. it was about $90. Needless to say, I stuck with Rhapsody until finding it on Amazon for a sweet $18 or so.
Live at the Marquee came out around the time the band was promoting Ceremony. I've read some fans bag on that album, but the Cult is one of those rare bands whose songs actually sound better live, even those that don't sound quite as strong on the album. "Full Tilt", for example, absolutely rocks live freed from its slower tempo and stifling production values.
Anyhow, the album starts out right with classic rockin' noize: big power chords, Billy Duffy just going off and the drummer going nuts before launching into "Nirvana" which also rocks WAY harder than on the album. Great way to start the show. Favorite tracks are Nirvana, L'il Devil, Zap City, Full Tilt, Love Removal Machine, and a great encore of Earth Mofo and Fire Woman. "Brother Earth Sister Moon" is a good slow song, but seems to be played at an awkward spot in the set, followed by "Revolution." Seemed like it kinda killed the crowd, but I guess you gotta catch your breath sometime. The boys kick it back up quickly, though, and continue on playing songs from all albums (at that point) including the awesome encore.
Oddly enough, "Wild Hearted Son" is not on the list even though that was the single from the album. And I swear there is a version of "Wonderland" on Rhapsody that is not on the disc. I dunno, but there are still 18 great songs and Ian's rant against crappy British amplification during some technical difficulties.
If you are a Cult fan or just hard rock in general, get this album. The Cult sounds better live, period. I was fortunate enough to see them in St. Louis in '07, and they have lost nothing. Billy Duffy is still way under-rated as a rock guitarist, and Ian maintains one of the best rock voices ever. Rawk on and enjoy!