It might seem an odd choice to mix classic ’80s heavy metal with modern punk, but that’s what a jam-packed crowd got Friday night at Terminal 5 when legendary rockers the Cult came to NYC for the first time in three years. And surprisingly, they didn’t choose to bring a sonically complementary band as an opener; they instead called upon younger, rawer and more-energetic Against Me! The divide in the crowd was obvious. A good majority consisted of dedicated, middle-aged fans of the Cult who were likely reliving the days of their youth, sporting Motley Crue and Poison T-shirts and taking an exile from parental duties back home in some surrounding suburb. But a small group came to the show to hear the more-recent anarchist anthems of their teenage years and their only familiarity with headlining act probably came from hearing its single “She Sells Sanctuary” while playing Grand Theft Auto.
Not too long after openers the Icarus Line left the stage with its guitars still squealing from feedback (and presumably the lead singer had reclothed his frail torso), the theme from Rocky began to play, introducing Against Me! But for many, this was a different introduction. The lead vocalist who walked out was not the Tom Gabel that fans had known and loved for more than a decade now. This was New York City’s first experience with Laura Jane Grace, Gabel’s new female identity after coming out as a transexual in early May.
While she looked androgynous — there was a resemblance of a male’s build behind her long hair, makeup, earrings and platform shoes — the music was the same. She still gave Gabel-esque growls, most noticeably during the band’s new song “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” based off of the singer’s recent changes. The band also played some classics like “Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong” and “Don’t Lose Touch,” a crowd favorite that sparked a mosh pit. At one point a couple near the front held up a banner painted “We Heart Laura” to which she responded with a cheery nod.
The band played a high-energy set like usual, but toned down a bit perhaps to embrace Grace’s recent changes by playing songs she wrote before coming out as a transsexual. During the song “The Ocean” Grace grinned proudly acknowledging the irony of the lyrics and how true they had become. Originally released five years ago on the album New Wave, the lyrics for the song read: “If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman/My Mother once told me she would have named me Laura.”
But the highlight of the band’s set was a cover song. Grace announced, “This may seem obvious for us for two reasons. One, because I’m a fucking transexual. Two, because we love the Replacements.” And just after announcing that they would play “Androgynous” by the Replacements, he called punk legend Joan Jett to the stage. They traded turns singing verses of what was an extremely memorable performance.
Soon after Against Me! departed the stage, Cult fans left the bars and began crowding in, making Terminal 5 look extremely small. Finally after about 30 minutes, Billy Duffy and the rest of the band hit the stage playing “Lil’ Devil.” The crowd went nuts as vocalist Ian Astbury, in classic heavy metal fashion, made his delayed entry. He would later express his love for the city claiming that it’s his “spiritual home” since the band first played New York City in 1984.
The band jumped between eras in its extensive discography. Early into the set the group played “Rain,” displaying a bit of its ’80s arena metal sound, full of Billy Idol-ish, echoed holler singing. There was also plenty of new stuff like “Honey From a Knife” and “The Wolf” as the band promoted the new album Choice Of Weapon.
It’s easy to forget how many scorching ’80s hits these guys had, but they played them all. The crowd freaked when they got the chance to take a journey back in time with classics like “Fire Woman” and “She Sells Sanctuary.” After playing a solid set they took back to the stage for a two song encore consisting of “Horse Nation” and “Love Removal Machine,” which sounds like a close relative to the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” The fans, happy with their trip down memory lane, poured out of the club and began heading back to their homes, perhaps to relieve their babysitters of their duties.