Robert Smith became a sort of somber Santa Claus for ticket buyers back in March, first targeting scalpers and gougers by opting out of Ticketmaster’s upper tier options and transfers, and then by convincing the ticket agency to refund some of their tagged-on fees back to consumers. On Tuesday, the first date of The Cure’s three night run at the Hollywood Bowl, our Patron Saint of Loot-Saving and Lovesongs, didn’t exactly give fans all they wanted (a hit-after-hit packed show) but he did give us what we needed: a wistful, trenchant and pitch-perfect sounding performance that proved his skills as a singer and musician have not wavered nor withered.
It’s almost unnerving how good Smith’s vocals still sound after all these years. His gorgeously emotive croon –which goes from aggressive squall to melancholy murmur– never ceases to be expressive or impressive. Naysayers might find him whiny, but fans have always appreciated the emotions conveyed by the singer’s voice, especially the way it brings his poetic lyrics to life.
While the frontman’s dark garb and signature disheveled makeup and hair have seen him labeled “goth” and “gloom” since he started making music, he’s always draped his output in both despair and hope. Live Cure shows, like the expansive set they did at the Bowl back in 2016, tend to reflect these contrasting moods and this one was no exception. They opened with a newish number “Alone” then gave us one of the band’s best ballads “Pictures of You” followed by a fitting filler from Head on the Door, “A Night Like This,” and then “Lovesong.”
If the first block of tunes made fans expect an equilateral mixed bag of favorites and fresh cuts for the rest of the show– an approach many artists take to help audiences digest new and lesser known songs– they were mistaken. Instead we got a procession of new tracks, and cuts from later releases like Bloodflowers.
We did appreciate “Burn” originally from The Crow soundtrack and of course, the rapturous “Charlotte Sometimes,” a universal favorite which came after a new song (never before played live) called “Another Happy Birthday.” The latter won’t be replacing Altered Images’ new wave era anthem during candle-blowouts, but it was fine.
Things bounced around from there with cuts off ‘84’s The Top and ‘92’s Wish and another thrown bone in “Primary” (probably this writer’s favorite, even if he sang it a bit differently than the recording), along with new stuff. And then the first encore came with lesser known tracks that, it must be said, saw the Hollywood Bowl crowd lose a lot of energy (a guy next to us in a Terrace box literally fell asleep). Still, Smith seeemed a bit more open to sharing – it began with a song about his late brother called “I Can Never Say Goodbye.” It ended with another favorite, “A Forest,” which by this time, the crowd seemed desperate for.
The second encore ended on a high note, and not just because it had more hits; we get that artists feel obliged to focus on the familiar and sometimes that comes through in lackluster renditions. But that wasn’t the case this time, as Smith even took off his guitar and danced around a bit. He seemed happy– it was hard to tell as there were no close-ups on the giant screens on each side of the Bowl stage– and it felt like more than a phone-in when the band played “Lullaby” and “The Walk” then ended with four biggies: “Close To Me,” “In Between Days, “Just Like Heaven” and “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Would the energy and audience engagement have been better if The Cure had dispersed the setlist differently? Maybe. Would the crowd have loved to hear “Love Cats,” “Let’s Go to Bed,” “The Caterpillar,” or “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”? Sure (he may well do some of these tonight or tomorrow). But Robert Smith doesn’t need to pander to anyone at this point. He’s proven himself in more ways than one and as long as he keeps sounding as wonderful as he did last night, he’ll continue to hold on to our hearts no matter how many hits he chooses to play live.
Pictures Of You
A Night Like This
And Nothing Is Forever
The Last Day Of Summer
A Fragile Thing
Another Happy Birthday
Shake Dog Shake
From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea
I Can Never Say Goodbye
It Can Never Be The Same
A Thousand Hours
Six Different Ways
Friday I’m In Love
Doing The Unstuck
Close To Me
In Between Days
Just Like Heaven
Boys Don’t Cry
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