Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull reviews an evening spent watching The Cure at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, complete with lipstick, dry ice and spinning tops galore.
Gigs that are organised by Robert Smith are not for the faint hearted. Some more senior lead singers are happy with bashing out a few greatest hits, departing as fast as they can from the stage clutching a wad of money and leaving a crowd dissatisfied.
But The Cure are no such band. Despite being an entity for nearly forty years, their setlists have only ever grown. And the first of their three night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo is no exception. The band clearly cares about their fans. Yes, they played hits. ‘Lullaby’ was hypnotising as ever. ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ prompts the usual vocal imitation of the bands trademark guitar riff . ‘Pictures of You’, no matter how many times I’ve seen it performed, is always beautiful and tear jerking. But this mammoth forty song, three-and-a-bit hour set is packed with rarities galore. Casual and dire-hard fans are appeased alike and neither can complain that they don’t get their sixty quid worths of live music. ‘A Man Inside My Mouth’ makes its first funky-synth live debut ever at the Hammersmith. “It’s nice to play some different stuff”, Smith quips in a brief remark to the crowd as he takes a brief break from his adorable teddy-bear like dancing. The Cure have toured pretty much constantly since 2011, but it’s so refreshing to see a classic band not rattling through the same set gig after gig. For once, there is an element of surprise for an audience used to being able to check setlists with a swish and a flick of a Smartphone.
There’s something here for everyone, songs from every album of their career appearing at some point in the set. I mean, with four encores, how could their not be at least one of your favourites played at some point? As a lover of their earlier work, it was great to hear ‘M’ and ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ finally make their way back into their set after a lengthy and unjust absence. Likewise, 1981’s standalone single ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ sounded sublime, oozing with gothic delight as the stage fills with dry ice and the dirge-like synth kicks in.
However, admittedly, listening to The Top played in full was not quite as enjoyable. The band have always steered clear of playing the majority of the album live since it was released. “We haven’t played this one since we last played here in 1984”, remarks Smith before breaking into yet another such track. And as ‘Give Me It’ closes the main set, I understand why. The album has some great songs, performed to a tee on the night. ‘The Caterpillar’, with it’s chaotic piano is heart-warming, whilst ‘Shake Dog Shake’ works great as a wickedly sleazy opener to the night. But playing the whole thing in one night? A bit too far I thought at the time.
But then Smith comes back on stage wielding a child’s spinning top. I thought I’d tripped out momentarily or died and gone to a Cure themed heaven. I mean, seeing any fifty-something year old man bearing a child’s toy is a somewhat odd sight, let alone when it is brandished by a lipstick-wearing musical genius on the stage of the Hammersmith Apollo. He holds it to the mic, cranks it up and the haunting desolation of ‘The Top’ begins to unfurl before us. The song is lament of desertion, of isolation in a barren and empty world. I’ve waited years to hear it live. Not only do I finally understand the pun in the title now, but I realise that someone else must feel the same way about other songs I don’t particularly like myself. As well as clearly enjoying themselves throughout the entire set, the band make a huge effort so that everyone there enjoys themselves. Yes, the set was eclectic and bizarre in places, but so well preformed I could have happily stood there for another two hours and basked in their blissful musical beauty. Although, please, please don’t shout ‘Lovesong’ next time, Rob. It’s a romantic number, not a football chant.
© Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull & Bourgol Photography