Fresno Beehive

I should have bought sanctuary from The Cult’s Big Fresno Fair performance

Singer Ian Astbury and The Cult hit The Big Fresno Fair on Friday. But look me in the eyes and tell me truthfully that it doesn’t look like Bono up there.
Singer Ian Astbury and The Cult hit The Big Fresno Fair on Friday. But look me in the eyes and tell me truthfully that it doesn’t look like Bono up there. rappleton@fresnobee.com

British rockers The Cult hit the main stage at The Big Fresno Fair on Friday, and one thing was certain: This was a band, and those guys had instruments.

Warning: If you aren’t a fan of my bloggy snark, turn back now. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here looking for sincerity.

The Cult had a major hit in 1985 with “She Sells Sanctuary,” a song which I only know from a mixed tape my mom played over and over on our way to kindergarten. The band has been on-and-off for the last 30 years, but this incarnation features the two most important founding members: singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy.

The band hit the stage before its 7 p.m. listed start time Friday and appeared to be in a rush all night. Astbury rolled out in all black with big black sunglasses, looking like mid-2000s Bono. I half-expected him to start singing about a place called vertigo.

Instead, they played a set that could easily have been all one song. I think the word “fire” was in half of the songs. Astbury forgot the set list and just sort of read advertisements to fill the silence between songs.

At times, The Cult rocked pretty hard. Duffy had the look of an aging rockabilly enthusiast who just drank a full keg of beer, but he proved quite capable of melting the faces off the first four rows with some piercing guitar solos.

There weren’t too many people in the non-face-melting sections, though.

Fresno Bee Executive Editor Jim Boren once told me that reporters are the worst judges of crowd sizes on the face of the Earth, so my official scientific estimate is that the Paul Paul Theater was more than half full. The demographics? Mostly men, and I am happy to report my 28-year-old presence helped bring the median age down to a rockin’ 49.

The crowd seemed disinterested – swaying a bit from side to side the way a wallflower does at his first freshman dance. No one I could see from my center seat knew any words to the songs save the last three. One guy yelled “no slow s***,” only to be rewarded with a rare ballad.

A few mischievous 50-somethings kept getting busted by security for trying to move up into reserved seats, standing in the aisles or smoking. It was kind of fun watching someone my mom’s age trying to drunk-slide his way into the fifth row over and over again – only to be easily thwarted by a vigilant security guard.

However, people perked up for the last few songs. The excitement reached its zenith when Astbury and company started “She Sells Sanctuary.” Unfortunately, that is when The Cult lost interest. The Bono glasses shielded his eyes, but I imagine Astbury’s eyes were dead as he sang the song he is known best for. The vocals in the recorded version are powerful and iconic; What Fresno got 31 long years later was only a fraction of that.

The world, it appears, has actually dragged him down.

But at least they came out and did a decent encore. Astbury gave a very sincere goodbye to his crowd – at 8:18 p.m. I guess it was getting close to bedtime.

Check back in with The Beehive for more reviews on The Big Fresno Fair concerts.

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