Live Review: The Cult w/ The Mission & Lili Refrain at Scarborough Open Air Theatre

Seaside rock n roll with The Cult, The Mission are goths melting in the sun and exactly what or who is Lili Refrain?

Words and Photos by John Hayhurst

Here in Scarborough Open Air Theatre again, 2 nights on the trot (Hollywood Vampires last night) but tonight is definitely not sold out with some complete sections of the seats with black coverings on. Still, there are plenty in early to witness the weird and yet brilliantly wonderful Lili Refrain.

She is Italian and that’s presumably where the operatic voice comes from, but there is a distinct shamanic persona that takes up around 80% of the performance. Using loops this multi instrumentalist starts with a drum beat and then builds a symphony of tribal sounds with synth keys, samples, guitar, even a cowbell.

Each track is around 12 minutes long (she only does 3 in her set) and this is probably a little too much for most of the audience here, who really just want to get their rock on to ‘She Sells Sanctuary’. However, it is quality primal stuff, and you do find yourself being transfixed to her warrior like character, all black cloaks, facepaint and manic expressions.

Outside of her performance she sounds like a really nice beautiful soul, thanking everyone from the stage crew to the other bands for having her on this tour, a nice warm fuzzy feeling to start the evening.

The sun is just starting to dip but it is still far too bright for The Mission, Wayne Hussey steps on to the stage on his own initially with a beautiful 12 string guitar and starts ‘Tower of Strength’. Immediately one of his dedicated followers (of which there are a few here) gets up on the shoulders of a friend and starts that beckoning wave dance as if conducting on stage proceedings. Security are not amused and several attempts to get her down fail, even Hussey himself stops the security from trying further – “they do that, it’s OK, leave them alone”.

We aren’t expecting happy dancing around from t’Mish tonight but there are smiles everywhere, its uncomfortably sunny and warm and so they crack on with a hit laden set – ‘Severina’, ‘Wasteland’ and ‘Deliverance’ they are all there and performed incredibly well, albeit in a tradesman like fashion, no frivolity or extended jamming, no climbing the speaker stacks or crowd surfing, no breaking of tambourines.

Hussey has a great voice, the band build symphonic gothic rock anthems with ease, it feels a little formulaic perhaps, but I guess they would have it no other way – brooding and sultry, that’s the intended impression.

This is the last night of this short tour with The Cult, although they do have their own shows to play later in the year. One of which will be just down the coast to headline the Whitby ‘Tomorrows Ghosts’ Festival just before Halloween, now that is much more in their native setting, and will be one to savour I’m sure.

A short break to get another pint at £6.50 each !! In Yorkshire as well. The Cult are on at 9:10pm and a wall of dry ice and stinky incense haze brings Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy out to blast through ‘Rise’.

Astbury is in his trademark headscarf, black garb and clutching one of many tambourines, you can almost see his eyes through the fog but little else. Duffy meanwhile sticks to the rock guitar god in waistcoat and black jeans image, he’s riffing away on that black Les Paul like the last 30 years didn’t happen.

Astbury himself seems to have kept his voice intact – which is great, it may not have the same power but his tone sounds quite perfect this evening.

We are all waiting for certain tracks and the first arrives in the form of ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ and ‘Lil Devil’, borrowed much from classic AC/DC riffs, but no need to fix something that isn’t broken. Astbury is now juggling tambourines and has a nice trick where he backheel kicks it over his shoulder. He seems in good nick as well as spirits, sprightly mover especially when there is a decent big hit to play ‘Wild Flower’ coming across as the rock behemoth it should always have been.

They break from the hits to play a couple of new songs from their 2022 Album ‘Under the Midnight Sun’. ‘Vendetta X’ and ‘Mirror’ sound great, and the album was well received, but they only really serve for people to take a toilet break or buy another expensive pint. After that its all the familiar headbanging stuff from those 3 classic albums ‘Love’, ‘Sonic Temple’ and ‘Electric’.

‘Rain’ first and thankfully non of the wet stuff here tonight, then ending with the cream of the crop ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and Billy Duffy’s classic intro riff blasts into the night sky (actually it is still light in Scarbados). They do return for an encore of ‘Peace Dog’ and ‘Love Removal Machine’ however, no ‘Edie (Ciao Baby)’ which is a shame.

The Cult are deservedly still blasting out these hard rock tunes some 40 years later, and doing it with a panache and style that has long since left some of their later peers.

Another fine rock show for this venue, Scarborough Open Air Theatre is becoming a ‘go to’ place in the North East during the Summer and long may that continue too.