The Cure at the Royal Albert Hall for Teenage Cancer Trust? It really was Just Like Heaven!
Resident lover of all things musical and closeted goth Robyn Strachan reviews The Cure. Whether she’s stopped crying over the beauty of ‘Close to Me’ is another thing entirely.
The venue was as palatial as it ever is, rounded and perfect acoustics matching perfectly with the grandiose nature of the Royal Albert Hall’s architecture. It was the ideal environment to be shadowed by the gloom of The Cure, inventors of goth and proponents of cerebral, amazing songs that swelled and crept into every corner and, tangibly, round the back of every seat.
It seems an impossible feat to capture with mere words a performance as stellar as that of The Cure last Saturday, so strong and pronounced was its identity and drive. You could praise the technical ability of the group, who due to perfect timings and a ready interplay between instruments sounded as good as if plucked from a studio recording. You could cry out in reverence to Robert Smith himself; although a less plausible sex-symbol than in his halcyon days, the versatility and power of his voice remains as wonderful as it ever was. Clad in black, with smudged lipstick, he skipped from animal noises to sweeping, beautiful flourishes with ease in a display of both keen melodic sensibility and the ability to project an emotional range as great as his tonal one.
You could even, if a pragmatic appraisal of the band’s back catalogue seems more your speed than complete submission to a group whose appeal seems based on emotional empathy, note that the colossus of the three-and-a-half-hour set, showcasing forty-five song proves that The Cure have rather a lot of good songs. Ultimately, however, none of this matters. The Cure are a group who have passed beyond the status of a mere band to the realm of legends – iconographic, genre-defining, so firmly placed in the musical canon that to appraise them in the terms of a normal review seems petulant, almost pointless. The whole experience was overwhelming in the best possible sense. Three-and-a-half hours seemed to pass in seconds and perfect song merged with perfect song with very few comments inserted to break the audience’s trance, save for a few witticisms courtesy of Smith.
Oh, and the songs! The Cure really have a plethora of tracks to choose from, from such a euphorically vast range of genres that selecting which ones to play, even over the scope of the set, must have been even more of a challenge than trying to stem the flow of tears during Boys Don’t Cry. Particularly striking was the fragility of The Caterpillar, the wistfulness of its lyrics perfectly set against one of the most iconic piano lines to ever grace vinyl. The claustrophobic 10:15 Saturday Night replaces delicacy with paranoia, a chillingly aggressive portrayal of the more squalid side of life that never loses its anthemic, singalong quality. Likewise, Killing an Arab fuses violence and loneliness to form a sonic landscape in which desolation becomes something tragic yet sumptuous, less the exercise in literary cleverness which the Camus-derived title may suggest than a vicarious celebration of fantastic guitar riffs.
Pictures of You was haunting, seeming to tap into an inherent sense of romantic yearning, whereas the sinuous electronic sleaze of The Walk has the whole of the Albert Hall on their feet, dancing as if the world outside had ceased to exist. In Between Days takes possession of its sumptuous bassline and mirrors it with a melody almost incomprehensibly beautiful; The Lovecats plays a similar trick with its jazz infused bass but to very different effect, being more sensual than yearning. Who could call into question the heady sexuality of ‘we should have each other for tea, we should have each other with cream’, never mind ignore the physicality of the assertion that ‘hand in hand is the only way to land, and always the right way round’? Of songs perhaps lesser known, perhaps the highlights were the ever compelling Fascination Street and Prayers for Rain, whilst the live debut of 2 Late showed a band refusing to sit pretty on the strength of glories past.
I wasn’t sure whether this rhapsodic response was just that of a girl so enthused with the mythos of The Cure that I asked my friend, Iona, what she’d thought of the concert, preparing to sever all contact if she’d failed to be moved. She replied, I am pleased to report, with the assertion that it was ‘the perfect set from a perfect band! It was amazing to hear so many surprise songs – far too many treats to mention! Three-and-a-half-hours of The Cure is never enough. This was without doubt the best experience of my life and I feel incredibly privileged!’ Yes, we both may have spent too many nights drinking cheap wine and gazing wistfully into the night whilst Disintegration played in the background, but I’d like to think that this waxing lyrical speaks more of the ability that The Cure have to move people, to engage hearts and minds.
There are those that gnash their teeth at The Cure’s claustrophobia, their density and often manic, heart-wrenching intensity; who sneer at Smith’s insistence on maintaining the bird’s-nest hairdo perched mattedly on his head or at the black of the band’s satirical efforts. Some like to chide the group for the mainstream success of Friday I’m in Love and Just Like Heaven, conveniently forgetting that to sneak lines such as ‘stole the only girl I loved and drowned her deep inside of me’, with all their glorious encompassment of the sinister and the lonely, into a tune that people gladly sing along to is nothing short of a miracle. Alternatively, the sheer violence and threat that many of the band’s songs are predicated on is enough to make others weep in fear.
Some people hear the word ‘goth’ and tar the band with the association of clichés and whinging teenagers, others refuse to acknowledge that the sadder side of life can be the best catalyst for artistic creation. My friends, all of the above are idiots. For two nights, The Cure showed the Royal Albert Hall how to fall in love, to dance, to mourn and to live with passion and fear and integrity. As a gig, it was sublime.
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