It’s pretty cool when an international rock group of this caliber and history does a date like Fresno or Bakersfield. Like a friend of mine had mentioned, it keeps us from having to fork out the extra money and time spent traveling to a primary market like LA or San Francisco. Gigs like that are usually a 3 hour drive for most people in this area. Fans in the Central Valley have to pick and choose wisely when it comes to pricey out of town “big” gigs like that. And these days it seems like EVERYONE’s touring. To be more accurate, there are more options to choose from, with groups hitting the road with more frequency even without new material to support, flooding the market with an overwhelming amount of live options. The Cult, at least, were still touring in support of Hidden City, a worthy offering of new material featuring the rocking “Deeply Ordered Chaos.” The Cult have been called the hard rock version of U2. I don’t really see the comparison, but for me, the Cult are a mixture of post-punk hard rock infused with blues and dark wave. Think of bluesy hard rock like Led Zeppelin, plus the baritone of Jim Morrison, the psychedelic mysticism of The Doors, with a dash of Joy Division and early Cure. It was an early set, beginning around 7:15pm with no opener. The energy level in the venue was ok but not quite up to Cult standards. Ian Astbury was engaging the crowd and playfully remarked “tomorrow you will get Country annnd Western. But tonight, you will get Rock n’ Roll.” Numbers-wise, it was a strong turn-out. From what I could see the venue was at least 3/4 full, which is great considering the area and minimal promotion. The Central Valley is a hot spot for country, big name pop and urban acts. The unfortunate reality of a well known rock group touring in a secondary market (especially a rural secondary market) is that you’re going to get an audience of mostly casual fans. Support for rock artists in this area is difficult to assess or even describe. There was a healthy sized crowd present and they were appreciative, but it appeared that most of them were only familiar with the group’s mainstream period of work, albums like Love, Electric and Sonic Temple. Sure there were die-hards present, rocking out, singing their lungs out to the majority of the live set, but from my position at least, they were few and far between. Astbury commented that the group would be performing 3 new selections, and in a playfully self-deprecating move, said “Don’t drift away now, come back, come back, it’s not like we’re in Fresno every week…get it while it’s hot!”
The performance was mostly good. For most of the set, the group played ferociously. John Tempesta’s drums thumped and rumbled along while Billy Duffy’s guitar smoldered. Damon Fox of Big Elf was recently added to the touring line up, handling keyboard and rhythm guitar duties. Grant Fitzpatrick on bass is another recent addition to the lineup, rounding out the rock solid rhythm section. The live renditions flew over with power. Stand out performances for me were “Wild Flower,” “Rain,” “Fire Woman,” “Deeply Ordered Chaos,” “Love Removal Machine” and “Sweet Soul Sister.” Frustratingly, what was an otherwise very solid set tanked with “She Sells Sanctuary,” one of their most beloved and widely-known numbers. The vocal delivery was uninspired and lacked effort. Astbury was phoning it in. The first verse was practically spoken word. The rest of the vocal performance was just as disappointing, picking up only at the outro. I had waited the whole set to hear this song in particular and upon hearing it live, I thought “what the hell!?” I don’t know if Astbury’s short winded vocals made the rest of the band sound bad, but on SSS, Billy Duffy’s guitar tone wasn’t as magical and John Tempesta’s drumming sounded restrained and tame compared to his playing on the rest of the set. It was like the energy level got dialed back down when there should have been a climax. Pardon the analogy, but it’s like we got blue-balled. The group rescued the set when they returned for an encore of “Love Removal Machine.” It was a good ending to the show but I was still bummed about the lackluster rendition of “She Sells Sanctuary.” Still glad I was able to catch The Cult at a local venue, makes me wonder what the gig would have been like in Oakland or LA.
This was a special show for us. It had been 11 or 12 years since Erica and myself had last seen the legendary La Ley in a live setting, and it has been almost 10 years since the group had broken up. Never would I have thought that the group would reunite, never EVER would I have believed that they would play Fresno, cow-poke country that most rock acts avoid like the plague. Ok maybe I’m exagerating. But why are they so important? Like I had previously written in the 2001 review, La Ley were/are one of the big four of latin rock, Grammy and Billboard award winners, providing upbeat dance rock in three languages. The best comparisons I can make are INXS and Duran Duran in their prime – catchy rock that you could dance to. Now add latin rhythms, upbeats on the high-hat, sick bass grooves, new wave synths, and a golden voice that’s a cross between Frank Sinatra and Simon LeBon.
So this was our first time seeing a show at The Big Fresno Fair. And let me tell you, it was a pain in the ass gaining admission (buy your admission tickets ahead of time!) and actually finding the venue within the fair grounds. It was tricky locating the theater and just as tricky gaining access. Maybe it was a low-profile show night, but staff and signage were virtually non-existent. So we were already a bit irked but finally made our way into the venue as Belanova began their set. The Paul Paul is a standard amphitheater set up, however there were no actual seats per se, merely rows and rows of metal bleachers with the seat numbers stamped on the metal backing. Some patrons weren’t in the respective, tiny-ass spots, so we had to tell a couple to scoot the hell over. Irksome. We were seated in the first row, stage right, behind the Pit/VIP area. Great vantage point but it would have been cool to score some of the VIP tickets. As we sat through Belanova’s set I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and I missed my kids. I actually thought, “hmm, would it be so bad to go home right now?” The Paul Paul Theater was filling up and it was impressive to see this kind of support for a group that has been out of the public eye for 9 years, and in cow-poke country no less. Opening act Belanova was well received, their bubble gum electro-pop going over well. They have a number of popular singles and much of the crowd recognized the songs, danced and sang along. Belanova weren’t really my thing – too sweet, too poppy. But a good portion of the crowd was enjoying their set and helped make for a festive mood. Denisse Guerrero is an interesting singer – squeaky voiced and demure (at least she tried to be demure), but she also looked just a bit uncomfortable, and she almost fell over during the set as she gingerly traversed the stage in her tall platforms. Regardless, the tunes were catchy and the group delivered. The group played a generous 45 minute set. Selections included “Baila Mi Corazon,” “No Me Voy a Morir,” “Cade Que,” and “One, Two, Three, Go!”
Just before La Ley’s opening number, I looked back and could see that about 3/4 of the venue was full, it may have been more, hard to tell. Capacity for The Paul Paul is 5000, so it was awesome that these two groups could bring in a crowd of at least 3500 fans. What seemed like the entire house rose to it’s feet as the group took the stage, opening with “Dia Cero” – one of the big singles off their best loved work, INVISIBLE. Girls were going crazy – dancing, cheering, singing, etc. The row behind us was especially vocal and it made for a fun gig. They were loud, they sang out of tune, but it didn’t matter, they were having the time of their lives and I couldn’t help but smile. During the intro to “Hombre,” one of the girls shouted “OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SOOOOONG!!!!” I was freaking out. Yards away one of my favorite groups was performing to a local crowd, my crowd. Wow, I thought…that’s Beto Cuevas…and Pedro…and Mauricio!!! And they performed as if they had never abandoned the stage 9 years ago. The group was tight, executed each song perfectly, and got the majority of the crowd going. I say majority because in the center-right section, rows 3-8, a large cluster of fans either sat through the performance (while EVERYONE else stood) or they didn’t even applaud between songs. Those people looked like they were waiting for rectal exams or something…pensive, anxious or sedated. Erica looked over and said “that’s what it was like last night,” referring to the Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias show she attended the night before with her sister. Evidently the LA crowd was very lame and boring during Enrique’s set, visibly frustrating him throughout his performance. At this show, hopefully that cluster of lame-asses doesn’t prevent the group from ever returning to the valley. They never come here. If you want to sit down in your seat, fine. But at least show some support and applaud. The group did a superb job. Each song flew over with intensity, precision and heart. The vocals were golden as usual, Beto Cuevas hasn’t lost ANY of the magic. I was still in disbelief, witnessing the group perform again and in close proximity. And hearing those songs live once again conjured up memories from over a decade ago and we couldn’t help but feel sentimental. Connection.
Beto Cuevas was deeply moved by the reception and applause the group received. He regularly thanked the crowd after each number and he was very talkative in general, taking the time to introduce the songs and play with the audience members. Although considered a celebrity and a heart-throb, Cuevas is by no means a conceited rock star with a superiority complex – quite the contrary. Cuevas is a very down to earth and humble performer, making him all the more likable, and the appreciative and moving stage banter was proof of that. I’m thinking they were nervous about this gig, nervous about the turn out, Fresno is an untested market for them after all. My hope is that this great turn out inspires the group to book the Saroyan or a similar venue for future dates. During the set I spoke briefly with security about ending time. I didn’t realize that Fresno city ordinance dictated a noise curfew at 10pm. The group began their set at 9pm! I turned to Erica in disbelief, and she said rather dryly “…it’s the fair.” I said “Damn it, no wonder these seats were 30 bucks and not 60.” As the group ended their main set, they said their goodbyes and exited while the lights remained off. It was 9:50pm and group had only performed 10 or so songs, leaving a good deal of beloved classics unplayed. The crowd grew restless, chanted “OTRA! OTRA!’ and pounded on the metal bleachers. To our amazement, the group came back out with only a few minutes left before noise curfew and eased into a surprising cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” in Spanish…and it sounded amazing! The guitar sound was perfect, Pedro Frugone was playing a Fender Strat with this smoldering tone to it, it sounded sexy, kid you not. It was a surprisingly good cover, but I was disappointed that a standard encore wasn’t chosen. In a shocking move, the band continued to play, nose curfew be damned. The group played four more songs, making for a semi-complete performance and ultimately ending with a devastatingly awesome rendition of “El Duelo.” If I had any complaints it was about Pedro Frugone’s volume. From our vantage point he was too low in the mix. La Ley guitar parts add color and texture to the songs, and some of that was missing this night, but no biggie. Mauricio Clavaria’s drums sounded great with great attack and tone. Clavaria dropped DW and was once again playing Yamaha drums, using a Club Custom kit in black swirl. Archie Frugone was once again playing bass for the group and it was hard to recognize him at first. A keyboard player rounded out the touring lineup. I can’t believe we saw these guys again. I’m glad we made the trip and stayed for the show. I hope they come back again. All the songs sounded great with highlights for me being 1-800 Dual, I’ve never seen it performed live before. The new song “Olvidar” was well received and sounded like a worthy new offering. There is reportedly a new album in the works. It will be interesting to see if the group has more classics to offer.
Prisioneros De La Piel
Tejedores De Ilusion
Fuera De Mi
Sin Ti (Wicked Game, Chris Isaak cover)