In preparation for finally seeing The Cure live and in person, I watched a clip of them performing The Head on the Door’s “Six Different Ways” from an earlier date on the “Shows of a Lost World” tour. Out of curiosity, I then pulled up a clip of them performing that same song, only way back in 1986. Robert Smith’s famously tousled hair might be gray and thinning these days, but his voice? The last 37 years have done nothing to diminish it. It’s still as unique, weird, and achingly beautiful as ever, something that was impressed upon me time and again during a three-hour set that featured songs spanning The Cure’s massive catalog.
The Cure ripped through the usual hits and classics: “Lovesong,” “Pictures of You,” “Just Like Heaven,” and an extended version of “A Forest” that culminated in Smith and bassist Simon Gallup trying to outlast and outdo each other. But they also played some surprising deep cuts, including “At Night,” “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep,” “Kyoto Song,” and “Prayers for Rain.” They played five or six new songs, too, and if the live versions of “Alone,” “Endsong,” and “I Can Never Say Goodbye” are any indication, then the forthcoming Songs of a Lost World is going to something special. (Whenever Smith decides to release the album, that is.)
My favorite performance of the evening was “A Night Like This” — Smith joked that the concert was turning into a Head on the Door festival — but of course, it was all superb, with the entire band in top form. There was Smith’s timeless voice, of course. It was delightful hearing those trademark yelps and coos, and when he let loose a scream on “Want” — a song I’d never really cared for too much before now — the entire place went crazy. There was plenty of “goofy uncle” dancing during “Six Different Ways,” lots of incredible guitar chops, and some sincere expressions of gratitude to the crowd, including at the very end as Smith stood awkwardly and absorbed our adulation.
After all these years, I suspect that Robert Smith knows precisely what his fans expect, and even need from him, and he’s more than willing to give it to them. Even if it’s just wandering about the stage during the opening minutes of “Alone” to make eye contact with different parts of the crowd and accept a few bouquets. It’s all part of his performance as “frontman of The Cure,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not sincere and even touching.
As for Smith’s bandmates, Gallup constantly prowled the stage, slinging his Schecter bass around like he was in a back alley knife fight. Jason Cooper’s drumming impressed, particularly on the tribal-esque “Burn” (from The Crow soundtrack) and the disco-y “The Walk.” Roger O’Donnell and Perry Bamonte flooded the amphitheater with gloomy synths on “A Forest,” “Plainsong,” and “Prayers for Rain,” with Bamonte also adding some additional guitar as needed. Finally, Reeves Gabrels’ guitar-playing added a fascinating and powerful aspect to the music, whether he was tearing an emotional solo from the guts of his guitar on “I Can Never Say Goodbye” or working with O’Donnell to create an ambient intro for “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” (which also featured a powerful Gabrels solo).
The Twilight Sad opened the night, but unfortunately, the venue didn’t do a great job of getting people inside so we missed the first two songs of their set. What we did see, however, was phenomenal. I love their wall of sound mixed with a thicker-than-thick Scottish brogue, especially on my favorite song of theirs (“VTr”). As I tweeted after their set, The Twilight Sad absolutely destroyed. It’s just a shame more people didn’t get to see them; I’d say that two-thirds of the crowd still had yet to enter the venue while they were playing.
I’ve been a fan of The Cure for over thirty years now, ever since I first heard “Friday I’m in Love” and my friend Leah gave me a copy of Wish for my sixteenth birthday that she’d dubbed onto an old black cassette. Indeed, I often thought of Leah, who tragically died in the winter of our senior year following a car accident that left her in a coma. Her memory has since become inextricably linked to The Cure’s music for me, a lament and celebration of everything that could’ve been for my talented, creative, artistic friend were it not for an icy Omaha road. And so I said a prayer for Leah during the concert, that she might be in a better place and I might be able to see her again someday.
Some might find it surprising, though, that I prayed during “Disintegration,” one of the band’s most nihilistic songs. (Sample lyric: “It’s easier for me to get closer to heaven than ever feel whole again.”) But for all of its gloominess, The Cure’s music has always been about embracing deeper-than-deep emotions, emotions best expressed via Smith’s unique phrases and fantastical imagery.
Pitchfork’s Nitsuh Abebe was spot-on when he wrote: “The trick, I think, is how well it serves as a soundtrack to that feeling that everything around you is meaningful, whether it’s beautiful or horrible or sublime.” He was writing specifically about Disintegration, but those words apply to The Cure’s entire oeuvre. To paraphrase Abebe, The Cure’s music “is for capital-R Romantics, not sulkers. It’s muscular, wistful, ghostly, seething, and yeah, morose, but what’s striking is how each of those qualities can reach really, really far into your gut. It’s not for the dead-inside: Get far enough in, and I will almost guarantee you will feel some shit.”
That night, standing next to my wife and surrounded by thousands of other Cure fans, I just felt joy and gratitude to Messrs. Smith, Gallup, O’Donnell, Bamonte, Cooper, and Gabrels. I was afraid we’d get rained on because of the recent weather, but aside from a few sprinkles, the weather was great. The crowd was a fun mix of goths (old and young), punks, Renaissance fair attendees, rivetheads, families, and middle-class suburbanites like ourselves — and we all sang along, at the top of our lungs, to “Friday I’m in Love.” It was, in a word, perfection. It might have taken me more than three decades to finally see my favorite band of all time, but it was well worth the wait.
I’ve added all of my concert videos to this YouTube playlist.