Representing. Vol. 17. The Cult.

(torontosun.com 5/27/06) They won't see 40 again, they've broken up at least twice, their glory days were two decades ago and they haven't released an album of new material in five years. And yet Toronto has never stopped loving The Cult.

On their latest reunion tour -- the first in more than three years -- the British band has been playing to North American club audiences of up to a couple of thousand people.

Last night in Toronto, however, despite the cool, foggy weather, they nearly filled the Molson Amphitheatre with fist-pumping, hip-shaking fans.

It's a mystery why this particular city should be so smitten by The Cult's combination of big guitar riffage and wailing vocals, but the band was wise enough to be loudly appreciative, sending out lavish thank-yous along with the flying tambourines and non-stop rock.

The Cult has had a strange history filled with musical left turns, revolving rhythm sections, awkward hiatuses, rehab stints and waxing and waning sales.

Singer Ian Astbury -- who spent the past few years playing Jim Morrison in a new version of The Doors -- and guitarist Billy Duffy founded it in the early '80s, and have taken its sound from goth to punk to psychedelia to quasi-metallic classic rock.

Their critical and commercial peak happened when producer Rick Rubin helped them put it all together with monster guitar riffs and over-the-top vocals to make Electric, which spawned hits like "Love Removal Machine," and "Wild Flower."

And though the band has never matched that early success, they've continued to churn out enough similarly high-powered songs to keep the fans coming -- especially in Toronto.

Like a creaky but powerful old machine, last night's show took a while to get going, but eventually settled into an impressive, if not relentless pace.

A bearded, kerchief-topped Astbury sounded a little tentative on the opener, "Lil Devil," and its followup, "Sweet Soul Sister," but by the time he got to "Electric Ocean," which he described as obscure, and "Revolution," he was in fine vocal form, whooping and wailing as he beat the tambourine and maracas and Duffy churned out the punk riffs.

Chestnuts like "Spiritwalker" -- the band's earliest hit -- and "Rain" were followed by "In The Clouds" and, after a swig of Red Bull on Duffy's part, "Wonderland," which was dedicated to Doors manager Danny Sugarman.

Then the backing band of powerhouse drummer John Tempesta (White Zombie), bassist Chris Wyse and extra guitarist Mike Dimkich took a break while Astbury and Duffy did an acoustic take on "Edie (Ciao Baby)."

When they came back, it was time to take it home with "Fire Woman," "Peace Dog" and "Wild Flower."

There was no sign of new material, despite Astbury's claim that the band was "back for good this time -- no more rehab."

But as long as they can please this many people with old material, they won't have to worry about that. At least not in Toronto.

Photo, finally put to good use, courtesy: The Caryn Thompson-Smith Collection