Written by Eric Sperrazza
Photographed by Matt Knox
It’s the music that always brings us together and lets us pick up right where we left off.” Said Joe Campagna as he wrapped his arms around photographer, Matt Knox and I while hanging over the barrier rail in the front row. At that moment, there at The Met, I realized that I was embroiled in a transcendental experience unlike any other concert moment I had. We all have certain friends whose impact echoes through many new chapters of our lives. As a high school freshman, I discovered one of those very people. Looking more like a bouncer at a nightclub than a teenager, my friend Matt Knox would sit with me daily at lunch. He was always talking about rock albums while championing the role of ‘Music Trivia Host’ with the people around us. We would trade tapes (Trading one dubbed album on cassette for another dubbed album on cassette with a friend, Kids.) and double-date. On occasion, he would be my Heavy when my wily sarcasm would write proverbial checks my short stature would not be able to cash. A solid third of my overall knowledge of classic rock music to this day could have conceivably come from his father’s stereo.
Years later, while writing for the United Kingdom publication, Total Wrestling Magazine, Matt and I would find ourselves working in financial sales together. In our office was a recently transplanted Hawaiian-By-Way-of-South Philly named Joe Campagna. He shared a passion for all things music, and for those years that Joe worked with Matt and me, it seemed like we never missed a show in the Delaware Valley. We did not have the paychecks early in our career for decent seats, but if we could just scrounge together enough couch change for a lawn seat to a show, we did that. And, unlike Matt, Joe had a shared mega-fandom for the band, The Cult. Endless conversations about Ian Astbury were had carpooling to and from shows to the chagrin of everyone else in the car. As we all moved on to our next adventures and responsibilities in life, our trips to concerts became less and less. Time marched on, and if we could convene at least once a year, that was considered lucky.
These days, Joe lives with his family in Western Pennsylvania. Matt does Landscape Art Photography in New Jersey. As for me, well, I spend my weeks living the dream, going to shows, talking with artists, and all close enough to rest my drink on the stage they are in. It is bittersweet in only one way: my friends in the cheap seats from all those years ago are not by my side to see whatever it is I am reviewing. So, when I found out The Cult was visiting The Met on Broad Street this summer, I nabbed a few tickets in the hopes of getting Matt & Joe to the show. When I found out about the opening acts, I asked my Editor for some intel, to which they raved about one performer, in particular –Zola Jesus. I went down the quintessential YouTube rabbit hole. I found this sultry-sounding thirty-something that haunted you with foundational blended sounds of influence from Joy Division, Kate Bush, Evanescence, and KMFDM.
As the curtain curled open, you could already feel an ominous fever dream beginning. As Zola Jesus opened with “Lost,” it set the stage for a dark alley soundtrack that would be carried like an Olympic torch from act to act for the rest of the evening. Performing her songs from “Witness” and “Exhumed” to the big closer, “Sewn.” She metamorphosed from simply being a fortune-teller enchantress doing the interpretive dance of your deepest anxieties. To letting the very music, she was a part of possessing her, onstage, flailing violently in awkward static positions and writhing on the ground to the backbeat of her art. I was genuinely shocked and thoroughly entertained. As I looked over at my fellow musicophile brethren to the right of me, I could see their minds blown as they were frantically trying to yell adulation over an entire Music Hall of people doing the same thing. It was clear that Zola Jesus was destined to be an F5 tornado of success just in the beginning of picking up wind, and what a success she indeed will be! When she walked off, the audience had no problem telling her that the stage should go home with her because she absolutely owned it.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was next in the spotlight of the stage. They are a trio that has been on the scene for over twenty years and remains unapologetically underground and non-conforming. They rolled out an 11-track showcase; I could not help but notice that no two songs were alike!
They have a nu-metal/outlaw feel with hardcore punk and an early grunge sound. Each song, from “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” to “Hate the Taste,” was a wildly different experience, packaged with this shadowy bow and presented as a souvenir from a vacation living in a suspense thriller film. The band ended with arguably my favorite song of theirs, “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Punk Song). Shades of Black Flag and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kultemanated off of every note and closed, with the audience, even more, intrigued than when they started. The true sign of outstanding performance; always leaves them wanting more. And we DID!
The Cult finally showed their collective faces, all to the sounds of Rise and The Sun King. What followed was a clinic in the best The Cult had to offer in terms of discography and energy. Ian Astbury and his trusty tambourine still entranced you with a frightening, dangerous, and sexual energy. It left you wondering if, at any moment, you will get lucky or found bloody all these years later. The powerful, enveloping darkness of their music romanced the crowd. It lured them into a freight train of hard-hitting 8-cylinder rock and roll right between the eyes. At the mercy of every note, the fanatical crowd shouted along to every word of “Sweet Soul Sister,” “Fire Woman,” and “Wild Flower” with the fervor of a Sunday Morning Preacher, hand in the air and testifying at the steps of Billy Duffy’s guitar altar. The band looked and moved with all the life and passion they always had, giving a one-of-a-kind and rare appearance to Philly fans. Most importantly, The Cult also gave me a rare and one-of-a-kind memory.
I thought about what he said with Joe’s arms still draped around Matt and me. It really was the music that brought us together. Right then, I looked at Joe in the front row with me at The Cult. Then, I glanced at Matt, already scrolling through his pictures on his camera, wearing his photo pass. I realized that this was indeed the moment I always wanted; to celebrate what I get to do for a living with friends who were still fans. I wanted to discover new music together as a social circle and celebrate legendary music as a gang of aficionados one more time. It is not often that you have a lucid moment in life, finding yourself completely aware that you are making an epic memory and rounding out a circle that started almost twenty years ago. I had mine arm-and-arm with my friends.
Of course, The Cult came back out and encored with “She Sells Sanctuary.”
Our eyes widened, our faces contorted, and then erupted with an explosion of every word along with Astbury on the microphone.
I stood corrected as the lights went up. THAT was the moment I always wanted.
Since the show, I have been getting texts from my Pals more frequently. We send screenshots of what we are listening to, throw out music trivia factoids to each other, and share YouTube videos of songs and bands we discover along the way. You see, the music always brings us together and lets us pick up right where we left off.