The Cure review – ‘frequent highs and meandering lows’

Hammersmith Apollo, London
The Cure deliver a crowd-pleasing three-hour, 40-song Christmas gig with a set list apparently on ‘shuffle’

The Cure Perform At Eventim Apollo In London

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.

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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

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

THE CURE “Live Hammersmith Apollo Londra 22-12-2014”

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Day two all’Hammersmith di Londra. Praticamente gli stessi volti osservati nella giornata di ieri si apprestano a bissare un’altra maratona (attesa prima, e concerto poi) di musica insieme ai Cure. Non è certo facile bissare spettacoli così intensi senza tregua alcuna, senza neppure una giornata di riposo, senza giocare al risparmio. Regola che vale per i sostenitori del gruppo, ma soprattutto regola che vale per i Cure, una delle pochissime band al mondo capace di instaurare un rapporto speciale con il proprio pubblico e, in forza di questo, una band che continua a concepire gli spettacoli come autentiche maratone estenuanti: l’unico modo per sentirsi vivi (?), l’unico modo di cementare il sodalizio con i fan (?). Certamente è l’unico modo di Robert Smith di stare sul palco. Gli And Also The Trees sono ancora la band che ha il privilegio di aprire la serata. Rispetto a ieri, ci sembrano ancor più sciolti ed in sintonia con l’Hammersmith. Ammettiamo che non debba proprio essere uno scherzo suonare in una struttura come questa, ma la band di Simon Huw Jones pone in essere un concerto dignitoso, godibile e con quel giusto mood preparatorio ai Cure. Insomma, non sempre gli organizzatori azzeccano la band di supporto: questo Natale siamo stati decisamente fortunati. Puntuali alle 20.00 i Cure fanno passerella posizionandosi davanti ad i rispettivi strumenti. Cooper è il primo (ed il rumore all’Hammersmith Apollo si intensifica), poi arriva Gabrels che si gode il ruolo di “nuovo virtuoso di casa Cure”; O’Donnell ammicca con il pubblico con uno sguardo un po’ convinto, Gallup, mentre imbraccia il basso, ha l’espressione severa di chi si appresta a realizzare una grande performance (ed il rumore in sala raggiunge già decibel pericolosi). E poi arriva il capo, che sorride piacevolmente divertito mentre afferra la chitarra e si avvicina al microfono (ed il rumore generato nel teatro crediamo che possa essere sentito in tutta Londra!!!). Si (ri)parte. Anche oggi è il brano d’apertura di “The top” che apre le danze. Smith invita il suo popolo di adepti a scuotersi; questi rispondono in coro ed all’unisono, con un tonante “Shake dog shake”, non fanno mancare l’affetto ed il sostegno. Lo schema è quello proposto ieri: l’intero set di canzoni di “The top” mischiate con il grande repertorio Cure. La band, tuttavia, non ripropone fedelmente lo spettacolo di ieri, sostituendo molti brani con altri pezzi che, esclusi ieri, “spintonavano” per ritrovare la propria celebrità concertistica. Una scelta che rende ancor più piacevole lo show. “Piggy in the mirror” anticipa “A night like this”, forse la canzone in cui Gabrels si dimostra lontano anni luce dalle musiche dei Cure: troppi svolazzi, troppi virtuosismi alieni al sound della canzone. Solo la chitarra di Smith riporta pace al pezzo del 1985. Una chitarra (quella di Smith) che sa essere firma prima ancora che arrivi la melodia del pezzo. Un suono che in trent’anni è stato imitato da chiunque, ma nessuno ha mai realmente saputo ripeterne il feeling, il mood, il pathos e l’energia. E poi arriva quella voce; quella voce che è sua e sua soltanto. “Say goodbye on a night like this”, ed esplode l’arena. “A man inside my mouth” è un non scontato ripescaggio, “The walk” è la solita bomba dance funk che non può mancare, e “The caterpillar” mette in mostra il genio creativo di Smith ed il suo totale senso melodico. “From the edge of the deep green sea” è un delle più classiche rock song (tutti all’Hammersmith Apollo hanno le mani sollevate), e “Push” ritrova il posto in scaletta, dopo essere stata accantonata ieri. Robert Smith (al solito) sorride divertito osservando i fan delle prime file mentre gridano il ritornello della canzone: sono due momenti di piacevolissima partecipazione collettiva. La doppietta pop di “Inbetween days” e “Just like heaven” è, ad inizio concerto, la rappresentazione e sintesi del versante piacevolmente easy della band, mentre con le speculari “Never enough” e “Wrong number” (singoli rispettivamente del 1990 e 1997) arriva finalmente il momento in cui Gabrels non si sente un pesce fuor d’acqua, inserendosi perfettamente nella melodia della band. Il capobanda è sempre più ispirato. Canta con la voce di un ventenne, suona la chitarra con intensità, passando anche al flauto in un paio di frangenti per dedicarsi, infine, anche ad un’insolita trottolina rumorosa (come nell’introduzione di “The top”); insomma è in forma strepitosa, tanto che gli altri quattro Cure sembra che stentino addirittura a tenergli testa o stare dietro i suoi ritmi frenetici. “Lovesong” e “Kyoto song” sono momenti deliziosi di oggi, mentre il finale del main set è da urlo. “One hundred years”, “Give me it” e la già citata “The top” danno al concerto rispettivamente rock decadente, noise, per finire con la desolazione alla stato puro: “Please come back, please come back… all of you”. “Primary” riempie l’arena di un rock ballabile (se solo ci fosse un po’ di spazio vicino alle transenne!), mentre “Charlotte sometimes” aggiunge quell’atmosfera in più grazie alle onnipresenti tastiere. Dopo un rientro totalmente dedicato a “Disintegration”, in cui “Pictures of you” tocca delicatamente le corde emotive degli ascoltatori, “Lullaby” anticipa un’intensa “Fascination street”, preparando l’ultimo encore di stasera. “Dressing up” (pregevole, e con “The empty world” una delle più apprezzate di “The top”), “The lovecats”, “Close to me”, “Why can’t I be you”, “Boys don’t cry” e la definitiva “Hey you” concludono con intensità crescente questa maratona. Ancora tre ore di spettacolo, per una fatica ampiamente ripagata. Il rifare sempre le stesse cose. Avere la certezza di emozioni che continuano e crescono. Avere la certezza che seguire le vicende artistiche di Robert Smith rappresenta più uno stare dietro le mosse di un grande uomo, prima ancora che di un grande musicista. Quando il terminare una trasferta come questa si traduce nel desiderio che ne arrivi presto un’altra. Quando in realtà un concerto dei Cure non è mai solo un concerto. Quando quest’anno Natale arriva con quattro giorni di anticipo sul calendario.

© Gianmario Mattacheo