PHOTOS — The Cult w/ Nightclub at Ruth Eckerd Hall 2023

The Cult w/ Nightclub • May 20, 2023 • Ruth Eckerd Hall — Clearwater, FL • Photos by Randy Cook —


Review by Randy Cook

The Cult | May 20, 2023 | Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, FL

On Saturday, May 20th, 2023 The Cult played the acoustically superior Ruth Eckerd Hall in support of their latest studio release ‘Under the Midnight Sun’. Released in 2022, The Cult’s eleventh studio release was met with rousing acclaim by fans and Classic Rock writer Dave Everley mentioned that “there are moments [in the album] that are as good as anything The Cult recorded back in their 80s heyday.”[1]

I was beyond excited to receive the photo approval for this show. I had seen The Cult last year and was totally blown away by how killer the band sounded and how strong lead singer Ian Astbury’s voice has held up against the forces of nature and age. This show was announced just over a month ago and came very close to selling out. As always, I took note of the age demographics in the arriving crowd and as expected it was mostly people in my age range but I did see a few youngsters there. For a band that has been in existence for nearly forty years (the band took two different hiatus breaks) I would expect nothing less than a multi-generational show.

Opening the show was an electronic duo named Night Club. It was only my second time being exposed to electronic music live and I found myself liking it much more than I expected. Especially after the fact – I have been listening to this ‘band’ quite a bit since the show. The lyrics were quite dark and profane which sent my friend Kay running for the exit during their set but we each all have our own likes and dislikes. I equated it to ‘rock dance’ music and found myself head nodding along to most of what I heard once I made it to my seat and also was a bit captivated by the sultry dance moves of vocalist Emily Kavanaugh. They played an eight song set and then it was time for the main event.

The Cult hit the stage to a rousing applause and got right to it, opening with the song ‘Rise’ then segued right into one of their staple hits, ‘Sun King’. My three songs to photo were from the soundboard which I was prepared for with my longer lens. Sadly the lighting for the songs I was allowed to photo were filled with strobe lights and predominately tons of red which at my skill level does not equate to the best photos to accurately represent what was happening on stage, and before I know it the third song and my final moments behind the lens come to a close. Another one of my favorite songs starts, ‘Sweet Soul Sister’, as I need to stow my camera gear and make my way to my seat.

Before going any further I have to admit that I was very distracted for the rest of this performance but not distracted enough to miss the incredible musicianship before my eyes and ears including the amazing vocal range lead singer Ian Astbury still possesses. I laughingly say that this was an “up and down” show because of the way the set list was constructed, the audience in front of us was alternately standing or sitting it seemed.

My distraction was simply how in the world did an absolute improbable confluence of events fall together to meet Kay, and have this incredibly gorgeous and intelligent rocker girl sitting next to me when there were so many intangibles and variables for my attendance at that Orlando show two weeks ago. That alone is a story in itself how this friendly meet up at The Cult came together the day before the show. But I was distracted in the sense that I had no idea just how gorgeous Kay is. Prior to this evening we had had minimal actual human interaction besides a few fleeting minutes in a dark, crowded Orlando venue. She was the person who just happened to be standing nearest when four photographer friends looked around for someone to take their group photo. Through electronic interaction and photo sharing, after Tesla I had come to find out she is a serious rocker girl.

Some of our in between song discussion, Kay asked me what I thought about Ian’s voice on ‘Sun King’ earlier in the set, and I felt silly trying to explain how I’m ‘in the zone’ behind the lens and I don’t really ‘hear’ the music. If I try to listen I head bang and I cannot take good photos while doing so. But when I had met Kay, I was shooting the Tesla show, so even with her not fully understanding given my short time to explain before the next song, she said she understood. The reason she asked is because she thought Ian sort of struggled with that one song early in the set, but had been stellar since. My comment was that I thought he sounded amazing with what I had heard so far. By the reception the band received after each song break it was apparent the crowd agreed.

As the set list progressed, there were songs I could not name the title when the song started, but I would immediately recognize that early “sound” of The Cult that I love so much, and obviously others do as the crowd stood up again. The band sounds incredibly tight and the dynamic construction of their songs create infectious grooves that I witnessed many people in the crowd getting lost in the moment to during several songs. Kay and I both agreed we liked how it was a very simple stage construction with plenty of room for guitarist Billy Duffy to move around and unleash the riffs and solos when his parts of the songs were in the spotlight. At one point Ian laughed with the audience and the rest of the band, John Tempesta on drums, Charlie Jones on bass and Mike Mangan on keyboards how it was obvious and apparent that many of their songs were written with the help of psychedelics.

The main part of the show concluded with the crowd on our feet and singing along to ‘She Sells Sanctuary’. The band came out and played two songs for an encore, ‘Peace Dog’ and ‘Love Removal Machine’. At the conclusion of ‘Love Removal Machine’ I think everyone in the venue was expecting and waiting for ‘Fire Woman’, or at least one more song when the band got together to bow at the front of the stage and then the house lights came on. I heard someone close by say what I was thinking… ”What?!?, No Fire Woman?!?”

I thought to myself, you cannot be disappointed by what a band did not play at a show. This band had nearly forty years worth of music to try and squeeze into a ninety minute set and still try to appease as wide of a fan base as possible. But there was still ten minutes left in that ninety minute slot and while I know everyone probably wanted to hear it played, I had my own solution in mind. As we were leaving the venue, we both agreed how great of a show it was and met up with a group of Kay’s friends who were also there and the group consensus was that the show kicked ass!
To celebrate an accepted dinner invitation I had asked Kay after the show, I listened to ‘Fire Woman’ on my way home from the show!

Set List for The Cult, May 20th 2023 at Ruth Eckerd Hall:

Sun King
King Contrary Man
Sweet Soul Sister
The Witch
Lil’ Devil
Vendetta X
Wild Flower
She Sells Sanctuary
Peace Dog
Love Removal Machine

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