THE CURE. London Hammersmith Apollo. 23 December 2014

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When even a ‘short’ show is 41 songs and 3 hours, 10 minutes long…

In an unprecedented move, The Cure return more often than once every three years, with a short three night run at the Hammersmith Apollo, for no particular reason, except that it’s three decades since the band last headlined here, and tonight they perform cheap shows with special ‘two and a half hour’ sets : and by cheap, the absurd £125-a-ticket prices are rightly slashed. There’s a recession on, so stop charging people the earth : yes, a three and a half hour show is good value, yes, the venues are small, but… £125 a ticket is too much money. Bigger venues, and more than 12 shows a year. It must be infuriating to live in Toronto and know that the only chance you get to see this band is to fly hundreds of miles to stand with 50,000 other people on a summer night in a field in another country, or fly thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to see them in one of a handful of shows in a smaller room in Europe.

The most expensive ticket is £50, and my ticket is £25 – which is only a fraction more than I paid to see them in 1996. It’s still a short night by Cure standards, at 41 songs and 188 minutes. And, with having seen them eight months ago, there are 12 songs that the band didn’t play that night, including the entire of 1984’s demented “The Top”. No one can doubt The Cure perform.. extravagant, powerful shows, exhaustive in length and breadth, and are rightly renowned for the quality of their shows.

Over six years since their last album, and The Cure – now firmly ensconced in the same core lineup of the past twenty years, and, with the relatively recent swapout of ‘new’ guitarist Reeves Gabrels (formerly of, um,Tin Machine) in 2012 – the band are becoming a kind of goth Grateful Dead, with enormous sets made of ancient material, an absence of much – if anything – less than 15 years old. One could argue the point of their existence or a crisis of confidence, betrayed by a lack of new material, given a kind of legacy act status combined with an inability to recognise the new world where the world is smaller, the sales are miniscule, and the days of £100,000 videos and CD singles are extinct. It’s not those old days anymore. Despite the setlist, one should live in this, here, and now. The world is changing around us. You adapt.. you evolve.. or you die.

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Fact is, The Cure are lucky not to have to fit the occasional live show around day jobs, unlike some of their once contemporaries. But the days of private jets and indulgence are gone in the new economy, where very few people sell records, and where most bands of a certain age tend to live around holiday rotas and school termtimes. And those of us who go to shows… when you have children, babysitters, jobs… you can’t just go and see all three shows. The days of seeing two or three shows a week are extinct. Especially at £125 a ticket.

From the opening bars of traditional set opener “Shake Dog Shake” to the final, and hitherto unexpected “Hey You!” (being played for only the 5th time since 1987), it’s another Cure show, another epic experience. The Cure have a reputation for their live shows ; even if they ‘only’ played a two hour show they would still be one of the best live bands there is, but with an average show of over 40 songs, and a unpredictability – that is, a seasoned watcher can kind of guess what will probably come next, but no one is ever, ever sure. This ‘short’ set still runs from 8.06pm to 11.16pm, and covers 41 songs.

In fact, over the past twenty three years I’ve been seeing them – since 1992’s “Wish” tour – I’ve never seen them play anything less than a spectacular show. Even the … muted crowd response to their 2004 Manchester show was matched by a powerful, if not exactly crowd-friendly, setlist and passionate performance. Tonight, the third of three shows, sees the band mix up their setlist – as they often do – performing 1984’s “The Top” in full ; which is unexpected. “The Top” is The Cure record I have the most difficult relatioship with, as it was clearly the product of a largely bonkers and drug-fuelled Smith, who played every instrument on the record but the drums, with a set of frankly bizarre songs and a claustrophobic production. Some of the songs such as “The Wailing Wall”, “The Top”, and “The Empty World” are amongst some of the strangest the band have ever done. And none of the band on stage – Smith aside – had any role in the creation of those songs. Not that you would know, because The Cure are a band, one that evolves and changes over time, one that changes and one that both moves and is always moving.

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Thankfully it’s not one of those ‘play-the-album-in-full’ shows ; those are boring, with very few exceptions … so it’s “The Top” played in full, but scattered over the set like confetti. There’s also the rarely played “A Man Inside My Mouth”, and “Like Cockatoos” and “Hey You”, both of which are so rarely played (before this week, they both had been played just twice since 1987…)… that they are practically extinct.

Sure, I could tell you about the crowd, half Cure devotees, the rest curious onlookers who see the band .. every once in a while… and who look confused when they play “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, or bored even, during “Like Cockatoos”, and who wander to the bar before coming back half an hour later, obviously a little louder, a little drunker, a little… stupider. Or the fact that the crowd just… stand there… which is miles away from my experiences of seeing them. The Cure are clearly getting older, and clearly also, the grand old days of chart success are probably lost, but then, every band has a golden age, an imperial phase where they are practically invincible, and The Cure‘s sun set – in that respect – over twenty years ago, and now whether they like it or not, they are a band of a time that is gone. But does it seem like that? Not, on stage. The band play with as much flair and conviction as they ever have. They sound just like the records, with the added quirk ofRobert Smith‘s unusual between song banter where, amongst other things, he discusses George Benson, Jazz, the legitimacy of the tambourine, and polar bears.

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But you can’t say you aren’t treated. The epic set covers highs and lows, with pacing akin to a novel, or a great big TV box set, Over half the evening is given to the bands hit singles, the rest to album tracks of no small worth. That, and the audience themselves, who – in the mass cheering that sits alongside songs like “Push” and “Play For Today” where the whole venue wordlessly sings – at deafening volume – the instrumental passages of “Push” and “Play For Today”… these are glorious moments for The Cure fan.

Afterwards, in the long slow walk out past the crowded corridors, the general consensus is that The Cure is just Robert Smith and some session musicians (which, considering that the longest serving member – aside from new guitarist Reeves has been in the band 20 years, is … surprising). The gap between the stage and the crowd is sometimes only a few feet, but very very wide indeed.

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Shake Dog Shake
Kyoto Song
A Night Like This
Wailing Wall
The Caterpillar
The Walk
Sleep When I’m Dead
A Man Inside My Mouth
Bananafishbones
Push
In Between Days
Friday I’m in Love
Doing the Unstuck
Pictures of You
Lullaby
Birdmad Girl
Lovesong
Just Like Heaven
Like Cockatoos
From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
Want
One Hundred Years
Give Me It

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Encore:

The Empty World
Charlotte Sometimes
Primary
The Top

Encore 2:

Three Imaginary Boys
M
Play for Today
A Forest

Encore 3:

Piggy in the Mirror
Never Enough
Fascination Street
Wrong Number

Encore 4:

Dressing Up
The Lovecats
Close to Me
Why Can’t I Be You?
Boys Don’t Cry
Hey You!

©  Mark Reed

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