Photo: Dara Munnis
One can approach The Cure as a band from many different avenues. You can bop along to countless pop moments, their flirty tales of love, that sketch the fizz of romance and then document the fizzling out of heartache. Despite it being a somewhat narrow view it can’t be denied that a great portion of their work has an eternally adolescent demeanour, the off kilter images merging with the irresistible melodies, where a voice can flit between a hiccup and a snarl. While Robert Smith has explored older and mature themes in his career, far more often than he is given credit for, he is undeniably at his best in the hinterland between youth and adulthood and charting that chasm has always been right up his (fascination) street.
On the other hand, you can be seduced by their less immediate traits, the slow burn of some of their long players, the bruised and existential murmurings of the Faith album all the way to the all-encompassing sadness of Disintegration. That is an album which is as stately as it is murky, the aural equivalent of staring at the sea, but an oddly calm and comforting one.
The Cure are a few different bands wrapped in a surprisingly successful and iconic package, a style that has created entire lifestyles for people, a look to be dressing up in. The Goths swooned but so did the mainstream crowd, for a far longer moment than is usually granted in these circumstances.
When they began, The Cure were a lean post punk band dealing in subtle creeping guitar lines but essentially a more introspective punk pop outfit, less confrontational and more sensitive. Sure they could rock out but it was a sinewy and odd take on the form, the excesses stripped back and the self-analysis ramped up. This exploration however was coated in a far more abstract way, with Smith expressing his thoughts and obsessions in veiled metaphors and unusual conceits. The current tour has the band playing an impressive set which charts their many different iterations, across a show which flows amazingly well considering the disparate tones and eras it has to cover.
Playing a 3 hour show at a festival is an odd thing to allow a band to do but what makes The Cure an interesting prospect for such an endeavour is that, while other bands would quickly run out of musical steam in that situation, the Cure canon is buoyant enough to get away with it.
I’m not saying the long show didn’t, understandably, lose some more casual fans but you were never 2 or 3 songs away from a bonafide hit, the impossibly romantic ‘Just Like Heaven’ erupting into a glorious sing-along, the delicate ‘Lovesong’ no doubt sound-tracked a million kisses within the crowd, while the frantic and gorgeous intro to ‘In Between Days’ whipped up the throng. Even lesser known album tracks could bring a certain surge when played in such company, ‘Push’ from 1985’s The Head on the Door sounding for all the world like the breakaway pop hit it could have been, even with its extended instrumental intro. ‘Pictures of You’ had a panoramic sweep to its heartbreaking tale, while latter day single ‘End of the World’ escaped the unfairly dismissed 2004’s The Cure album and held its own against its more popular brethren. Diehards were rewarded with some overlooked gems, the ‘Let’s Go to Bed’ b-side ‘Just one Kiss’ getting a suitably atmospheric airing while ‘Want’ from a distinctly underwhelming album had an energetic reading, re-cast as an engaging ode to lust and desire. In fact the gig did a great job in re-interpreting past works and thus reinvigorating them. For my money the two worst Cure albums are The Top, made in a time of great turmoil where the future for the group was never more uncertain, and Wild Mood Swings which attempted to branch out their sound but failed to catch fire (the sublime ‘Mint Car’ being the exception and another song delightfully rolled out here much to my joy, as I do feel it’s an underrated slice of perfect Cure pop).
Songs from both these albums were played and salvaged, perhaps benefiting from some hindsight but also contributing to a showcase for a band fully aware of their strengths. The songs from The Top in particular emerged as funked-up re-workings, light-years away from the messy, unappealing recorded versions. Their juggernaut Wish album was very well represented with 6 tracks culled from it and each one sounding as fresh as ever. A deliriously punky version of ‘Primary’ kept this Faith-era enthusiast very happy and took the creeping pessimism of the original into stronger, punchier territory. Trying to keep all audiences happy when covering so many textures is tricky and only in two places did the band falter. The disappointing ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ has always struck me as seriously half-hearted; even though it was written in their mid ‘80s hey day, I suspect there’s a reason it was left behind for so long, before being resurrected for the mixed bag that was the last album 4:13 Dream. The run through here did little to alter my doubts concerning it. The second bum note came during a meandering take on ‘The Same Deep Water as You’. While I’m fully aware it figures in the epic and long winding side of the Cure’s oeuvre, it really ran out of steam and as the closing point of the main section of the show, it fell flat. That water was just a little too deep and muddy for my liking.
Thank heavens they bounced back with a second encore of phenomenal tracks and crowd-pleasers. ‘Close to Me’ had an insistent, pulsing build up which led sublimely into the jazz explosion of ‘Why Can’t I be You’. We were in the final run when we got enduring standard ‘Lovecats’ and the perfect sugar rush of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, an ironically ageless song that still seems to resonate deeply in the heart of not only their fan base but beyond. Rounding off the show by going back to the beginning, the final double act of ‘10.15 Saturday Night’ and their very first single ‘Killing an Arab’, brought us back to earth and allowed the show to ‘closedown’ on a fitting and nostalgic note, the wispy guitar lines of that first effort sounding incredibly focused and forceful.
This was my second time seeing the band, the last time on the Reflections Tour. They employed a concept of playing their first three albums and encores consisting of other songs from that era. A gift for a fan but I had long wanted to see a more diverse career-spanning set and this provided everything I wanted to hear. In fact it was so definitive a song list that, outside of the next speculative Reflections Tour (consisting of the following three albums if it happens!), I don’t think I’d ever have to see them again. Smith is always the same, but unlike the lost and lonely protagonist of ‘A Forest’, he is always running towards something and has a million kindred spirits, make-up applied or not, walking those woods with him.