Hammersmith Apollo, London
The Cure deliver a crowd-pleasing three-hour, 40-song Christmas gig with a set list apparently on ‘shuffle’
The Cure’s three-night Christmas residency at Hammersmith Apollo begins with Shake Dog Shake, the opener off their 1984 album, The Top – a reminder that not all Cure songs about animals are about cats, or caterpillars. Some are redder in tooth and claw.
Forty songs later, it ends with Hey You!!!, from the Cure’s 1987 album, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. Addressed to a girl who “looks like Christmas”, Hey You!!! apparently hasn’t found itself on a set list since 2004. Robert Smith bows and shuffles off, apologising for the lateness of the hour. It’s 17 minutes past curfew and the band have been onstage for just over three hours (with four pee breaks).
Perhaps they feel at home. The Cure first played the Apollo 30 years ago; there are two more nights in this run. The previous couple of evenings have found the band sharing the Apollo’s stage with an array of scientists and comedians as part of Brian Cox and Robin Ince’s Christmas Compendium of Reason shows. The Cure played a short set and joined in on Always Look on the Bright Side of Life with Eric Idle.
It’s a funny old match, science and the Cure. Despite being called something vaguely medical, and writing about mammals and invertebrates, you wouldn’t actually have pegged the Cure as a band big on reason. They are all about the shadow world, dream states and nightmarish imaginings, the irrationality of love, and the depths of existential despair, all of which receive an airing during this sprawling gig. “It doesn’t matter if we all die,” begins 100 Years, perhaps contemplating man’s transient puniness in the face of the cosmos.
Professor Brian Cox remains in the upper circle tonight. The hardcore, meanwhile, are treated to the live debut of an 80s B-side, Man Inside My Mouth, a handful of tracks that haven’t been played live for 10, or even 30 years, plus a slew of instantly recognisable songs that made much of alternative rock possible. No song tonight comes from 2008’s 4:13 Dream, the Cure’s last album. Its mooted successor, 4:14 Scream, remains unreleased. You get the sense that the Cure have no problem whatsoever being a heritage act.
A three-hour set usually prompts one of two responses. The fan perspective? You can never have too much of a good thing. The Cure have form here: last year in Mexico, one gig stretched to the four-hour, 50-song mark (it was Robert Smith’s birthday). Last March, the band’s three nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust charity boasted at least one set of 45 songs.
Tonight’s 40-track show delves into most of the crenellations of the post-punk band’s long and deep back catalogue, and works out at excellent value, restating the Cure’s nagging way with a pop melody and a lasting take on bleakness. Contrasting that generosity to the industry standard of roughly 14 songs in 90 minutes, the Cure are a steal.
Smith – the sole wild-haired constant in the Cure’s fluctuating line-up, which tonight includes former Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels on pro guitar licks – notes that the band have chosen 20 songs that didn’t appear on their Royal Albert Hall set lists, to keep things fresh for returnees. And while we’re counting, playing their fourth encore – Hey You, plus the glorious run of Lovecats, Why Can’t I Be You, and Boys Don’t Cry – actually costs Bob and co a few bob, as going over curfew entails a fine.
Quantity, though, is not the same thing as quality. In showbiz, there is a stubborn adage about how you should always leave ’em wanting more. Last March, one of my Guardian colleagues had the temerity to suggest that the Cure’s Royal Albert Hall set could have used a little tightening up. All hell broke loose in the comment thread online, prompting even Smith himself to wade in angrily.
That problem with flow remains. Where bands usually cleave to a sequence of moods, the Cure seem to have thrown everything into an iPod shuffle. Jolting along, frequent highs interrupted by meandering lulls, a theme settles around The Top album, whose tracklist is raided hard. Wailing Wall begins with Smith playing the recorder, before keyboard player Roger O’Donnell takes up the flute melody. Later, The Empty World offers two Cure curveballs: martial drums and flute. The excellent Give Me It finds the Cure playing fast and loud, with menace – something you wish they would do more often.
It wouldn’t be quite true to say that three hours in the company of the Cure flies by, but it really doesn’t crawl or creep either. A match for the season, the Cure really are the band that keeps on giving.
© Kitty Empire & The Guardian