The Cure Live In Concert
(Words - Ian Bell, Photos - Rodney Magazinovic)
The first time I saw The Cure perform live was 1980.
Thirty six years ago.
They were a three piece band then.
They had just released their second album Seventeen Seconds.
They played at The Arkaba.
Really, they did.
I have seen them many times since then and while the shows were always 'good', their steadfast resolve to not play their most popular songs was a constant annoyance. I like to hear those b-sides and album tracks, but I always longed to hear the singles. The singles that meant so much to people. That filled people's hearts as much as they filled the dance floors of the clubs I DJed in during the 80's and 90's. The Cure always seemed more than a little embarrassed by those songs, as if having a song that was popular with a large amount of people was something to cower away from. Many times I have seen them play a three hour set and include only one of the hits. Which is okay for the die-hards, but if you are playing arenas a good chunk of the audience is there for those cross-over hits. I last saw them at Coachella in California in 2009. They were that last band on the main stage of three days trudging many kilometres around the massive site and they were not holding my interest, so I have them to thank for getting to see Throbbing Gristle and legendary punk band X.
Two years later in 2011, The Cure appeared in Sydney as part of the Vivid festival. The special show called Reflections featured members past & present playing the first three albums. Tickets sold out immediately and Cure fans flew in from all over the world. I couldn't get tickets and sat on my computer weeping as friends did live updates on Facebook. They did the first three albums and then pulled out all of the greatest hits they never usually played. And it seems that changed something within the band. Perhaps they realised that playing your most popular songs, and making people deliriously happy, is not such a bad thing. Their sets have been generously peppered with hits since then.
Tonight I got The Cure show I have always dreamed of. Close to three and a half hours, fan favourites, rarities, oodles of singles. Fan-flipping-tastic.
Firstly they opened with Open, the first track on Wish (and ended the first bracket with End, the last song on the same LP), which is actually really funny for a band considered by many to be glum or dour, or let's just say the word Goth. This is followed by a quartet of songs from Head On The Door: Kyoto Song, Push, A Night Like This and then a glorious In Between Days. What a brilliant song. It is a sparkling spinning diamond that still shines so bright after thirty one years, and the elation with which it is greeted is intense. The bass driven Spartan urgency of Primary from 1981's Faith is magnificent.
The sound is fantastic and Smith's voice is exceptional. The current line-up consists of Smith, Simon Gallup on bass (second longest serving member: joined in 1979 and has been in ever since apart from a two year gap in the early 80's), Reeves Gabrels (long time Bowie collaborator and member of Tin Machine), Roger O'Donnell (his third stint with The Cure) and drummer Jason Cooper who has been playing drums with them for 20 years. Certain songs get an elongated almost psychedelic work out. There's jangly guitars, thundering bass and the lights, my goodness the lights. A trio from Disintegration is rapturously received. Last Dance was a bonus track on the CD and cassette version (not on the original vinyl album) and is one of those track for the aficionados. Great inclusion and a nice surprise. The pace is slowed by Pictures of You, but the collective heart rate rises. One of the quintessential Cure songs: slow paced atmospheric music with angsty art school poetry (no disrespect intended). Scores of audience members are weeping as they sway.
"I've been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they're real..
The Disintegration trio winds up with Closedown, another unexpected treat. I love that they are doing clumps of songs from some of their most beloved albums. The set is heavily skewed to Disintegration ("..is the best album ever" Kyle Brofloski, South Park) and 1992's Wish. High is an unexpected stand out performance tonight. I loved that song, but I'd forgotten just how much, I suspect I was not alone. Back to Disintegration for a magnificent Lovesong, a track I would put up against almost any other in a top ten of great songs of the 1990's. Despite their reputation as being all doom and gloom, it's tracks like Lovesong that prove Smith's ability to smash out fantastic pop songs.
Robert doesn't really talk that much. It clearly makes him uncomfortable. Apart from a shy "Hello...again" and his introduction to a dizzying Friday I'm In Love (which is perfect: "Every time we are about to do this song, the voices in my head say 'don't do it this time'.") he barely speaks. The large screen is filled with spinning Wish heart logos and people all around me are dancing and singing with big goofy smiles on their faces. Barely a moments breath before it's Just Like Heaven followed by a sterling From The Edge of The Deep Green Sea. It wasn't a single, it wasn't a hit, but it is a song that means a lot to many people. The main set finishes with some more gems for the Faith-ful. Want (Wild Mood Swings 1996), The Hungry Ghost (4:13 Dream 2008) and One Hundred Years from Pornography 1982. And as I already mentioned, End.
The first of FOUR encores begins with a brand new unreleased song It Can Never Be the Same, a great song I look forward to hearing again when it surfaces on a new record. Two more awesome rarities in the shape of Shake Dog Shake from 1984's The Top, and Burn from The Crow Soundtrack in 1994. A mighty rendition of A Forest with it's rumbling bass line and some amazing guitar work from Smith, is accompanied by stark images of a forest which are a little 'Blair Witch'.
Second encore stars with the haunting Lullaby; "I'm sorry I haven't talked much, but if I could think of something funny to say, I'd probably talk more" says Smith. There is a celebratory Fascination Street (so that is two more from Disintegration). Never Enough gets a huge response too. It was the first single from the controversial 'Mixed Up' album of new versions, remixes and re-imaginings of some of the bands best loved songs. Some fans loved it, some fans hated it, but over time has become a loved part of their catalogue. Wrong Number is again for the devoted, it was a single but included on The Galore compilation from 1997.
They are currently TWENTY SIX songs in. It is by any standards a bumper set list. Robert Smith is 57 years old. His well known fear of flying has at times hampered their touring effort, and I suspect in part, has inspired their epically long concerts. We've come all this way, we might as well make it worthwhile. They have often been mocked for their 'gloomy' music and their look. In particular Smith's electrified birds nest hair do and the wonky lipstick. But all these things added to the allure of The Cure, to an audience who often felt disenfranchised, misunderstood and out of step with the 'normal' people. The Cure, like The Smiths, offered un-sporty, non-mainstream, poetically inclined, sensitive teenagers, something of their own. A music that was sad, mysterious, unworldly, delicate, joyful and beautiful. The elation of finding bands like this, and in Australia, The Go-Betweens, The Triffids, etc, when you feel like everything on offer is too aggressive or insipid, can really save and inspire people. That said, the poppier side of The Cure catalogue is a joy unto itself and when they start the third encore with The Love Cats, the joint goes properly bananas. Everybody is singing and dancing and waving their paws around. As he hits the chorus, everybody in the audience raises their arms as one. It's almost evangelical, but shyer and more introspective.
Into the sea,
You and me,
All these years and no one heard,
I'll show you in spring,
It's a treacherous thing,
We Missed You,
Hissed the Love Cats
The Caterpillar sends squeals of delight round the room, which continues when Smith does some classic 'Cure' dancing. 1983's The Walk is magical, as it has always been with it's syncopated beats and the staccato keyboards. They finish encore number 3 with the indie pop, hand clapping classic Close To Me and I am sure I wasn't the only one who thought of being locked in a cupboard and falling off a cliff.
It's been a marathon night for band and audience alike but we are not finished yet. The band return to the stage and Smith says 'ThanQUEUE' and says with a regretful tone that 'Due to time constraints this will be our last song' before the launch into Hot! Hot! Hot! from Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me from 1987. It's a great song but can this really be the last one? Really? Well no. Let's Go To Bed is an almost perfect pop song, it combines a great tune, dancey beats and quirky lyrics (Let me take your hands, I'm shaking like milk). Surely there is nowhere left to go after this. Drum fill then the synth horns blaring Baaa Ba Baaa Ba Baa herald the start of Why Can't I Be You? Again here is a song that has stood the test of time and can still fill a dance floor all over the world, and tonight the Entertainment Centre is no exception. It's frantic and fabulous.
There is one last song. It is the thirty fourth song they will play tonight in a crowd pleasing, exhausting magnum opus of a set, that stretched over three hours. It is Boys Don't Cry. Released in 1979, it had a second lease of life when a remixed version was released in 1986. I have always felt that the metre of this song feels like running and tripping. The ascending chords are like taking a breath and starting to run, a little slower, then the descending chords are like the trip. The lyrics also seem almost childlike and naive. The stark SMACK of the snare drum, driving the pulse of the song but being constantly fooled by the trip. It is utterly wonderful and a genius way to finish a amazing night, with an astounding band. It has been nine years since their last visit, let's hope it doesn't take them anywhere near that long to return.
A Night Like This
In Between Days
Pictures of You
Friday I'm In Love
Just Like Heaven
From The Edge of The Deep Green Sea
The Hungry Ghost
One Hundred Years
It Can Never Be The Same
Shake Dog Shake
The Love Cats
Close To Me
Hot Hot Hot!
Let's Go To Bed
Why Can't I Be You?
Boys Don't Cry