The Cure at G.M. Place on Monday, May 26
It seemed just like old times—sort of. When I last saw the Cure play live, in the summer of ’92 at the Coliseum, the veteran British alt-rock band started with "Open" and ended with "A Forest", which is precisely what it did on Monday night. In between, the group played all of its best-known songs, a smattering of new tunes, and, for the benefit of those who obsess over such things, even a few semi-obscurities.
Jade Pover: 24
"It was amazing, he’s [Robert Smith] still got it."
Rachel Kowbel: 38
"I thought it was awesome. I can’t believe how long they went for."
Mike Pover: 26
"I think it was great. I love the Cure, they did a really good job, he [Robert Smith] hit all the notes, and his voice was, like, exactly as it should be."
Sylvia Domaradzki: 36, lawyer
"You know, I’ve been waiting for 28 years, well worth the wait. It was fantastic, it was awesome."
The Cure is currently a four-piece, featuring founders Robert Smith (vocals-guitar) and Porl Thompson (guitar), plus long-time bassist Simon Gallup and drummer Jason Cooper. The latter counts as "the new guy" in the long-running band’s terms, seeing as how he has only been in the lineup for 13 years.
There wasn’t a good look among them. Pairing rhinestone-encrusted red platform shoes with a black PVC jumpsuit, the bald-pated Thompson appeared ready to audition for The Rocky Horror Show after the gig; Gallup looked a little like the Fonz, with his biker-boy getup and slicked-back hair; and the less said about Cooper’s shaggy mullet, the better. And Smith? Well, he looked just like he always has, his pasty-white face framed by ratty black hair, with his eyes circled in black, and his lips smeared with scarlet.
If Smith’s look hasn’t changed much over the past three decades, the same can’t be said for the Cure’s music. The group has been active long enough to flirt with—and also pioneer, in some cases—spiky post-punk, dark-side-of-midnight goth, synth-driven new wave, and gorgeously shimmering dream-pop. The high points of this journey are many, and almost all of them got an airing before the audience that filled G.M. Place’s intimate Pontiac Theatre Bowl configuration.
Take "Fascination Street", possibly the Cure’s finest moment ever, and the night’s second selection. In one five-minute song, the band wove together many of the seemingly contradictory threads that mark its best work. The performance was driven by an insistent, weighty groove from Gallup’s Thunderbird bass, but the intertwined guitars, drenched in chorus and delay effects, lent the song an ethereal atmosphere. The lyrics are quintessential Smith, walking a razor’s edge between celebration and despair: "Let’s move to the beat/Like we know that it’s over."
That selection first appeared on 1989’s Disintegration album, long a fan favourite and the source of many of the best moments in the first half of the Cure’s set, including the yearning "Pictures of You" and a creepy version of the nightmare-before-bedtime fable "Lullaby". Have I mentioned that the concert was just shy of three hours? Well, it was, but it somehow didn’t feel quite so long. That’s probably because, to anyone who showed up to hear the oldies, the show got better the longer it went on.
It wasn’t all superb, mind you. New numbers like "The Perfect Boy" and "Sleep When I’m Dead" (both will presumably be included on the Cure’s upcoming 13th album) have perfectly serviceable melodies, but they’re no "Friday I’m in Love".
Speaking of which, the band’s surprisingly lifeless performance of its biggest hit seemed perfunctory, but was followed by a one-two punch of spot-on versions of "Inbetween Days" and the almost-flawless "Just Like Heaven", which is arguably the Cure’s finest moment ever. The quartet delivered another wicked combo to end its main set, delving into the darkest corner of its catalogue for the driving "Primary" and the bleak, searing "One Hundred Years".
The latter is from 1982’s Pornography, probably one of the most depressing records ever released, but not in a bad way. The visual projections accompanying the song included stark black-and-white stills of bombed-out buildings and marching fascists, but the goths in the crowd sprang to their feet when Smith intoned the infamous opening line, "It doesn’t matter if we all die."
Things got considerably cheerier during the first encore, which saw the singer abandoning his guitar and picking up a hand-held microphone to stride about the stage for upbeat mid-’80s fare such as "Why Can’t I Be You?", "Let’s Go to Bed", and "Close to Me". All well and good, but it was merely a warm-up for the faultless second encore, a compact set of the Cure’s earliest songs that offered ample proof just how well the perfect pop of "Boys Don’t Cry" and the snotty post-punk of "Jumping Someone Else’s Train" have aged.
Oh, and the show ended with an eight-minute version of the wonderfully hypnotic "A Forest"—which is almost certainly the Cure’s finest moment ever.