May 22, 2016
Anticipation for The Cure’s current North American Tour has been nothing short of fiendish, especially as it's progressed and word of the band’s extraordinary, rarity- and multi-encore-packed set lists have hit the blogosphere. But Robert Smith and his band have always made their live shows major events actually worthy of the word “epic.”
Exhaustive, thoughtful and unpredictable, filled with both melancholy moments and raucous freakouts, The Cure's live shows proved long ago that these pioneers are far more than gothy groovers on a nostalgia trip. Quite possibly, they're in their prime right now when it comes to playing live.
The band’s penchant for protracted performances meant their Hollywood Bowl set Sunday (the first of three sold-out gigs there in a row) had to start early due to a sound curfew. They went on around 7:35 p.m. while it was still light out, which gave the show's start a surreal festival feel that slowly melted into the dusk, and into something more profound.
The moody melodies of 1989’s Disintegration opened the show with the first three tracks, “Plainsong,” “Pictures of You” and “Closedown.” Then they gave fans of the older gem, 1985’s Head on the Door, a tempestuous trifecta: “A Night Like This,” “Push” and “In Between Days,” only to return back to Disintegration with “Last Dance,” “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street,” adding one later-era track “The End of the World” before the wistful “Lovesong.” They’d revisit Disintegration again a few songs later with “2 Late” in the middle of the set and the album’s title track as closer.
It was a to-die-for set for fans of Disintegration, obviously. But dissecting a Cure set list beyond the immediately apparent can be tricky. On paper, it can seem pretty all over the place, but you get the feeling that Smith really ponders the experience he’s presenting in a way that maybe other artists don’t. In Sunday’s case, it seemed to be about evoking a time and a feel for a lot of us (the late '80s) when we bought records and played them in their entirety, but ultimately became attached to certain tracks, skipping straight to them to sing along over and over again, wistfully reliving the emotions they evoked.
A mix of early material from Pornography, Seventeen Seconds, The Top and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me really brought that feeling home. Mixed with two formidable new numbers, “”Step Into the Light” and “It Can Never Be the Same,” the set proved to be as nuanced as one would expect from a band known for gloomily poetic music, but vigorous as well. The final encore was hit-packed perfection, starting off with the playful pounce of “Love Cats,” and keeping its vim with “Hot Hot Hot!!!”, “Close to Me,” “Why Can’t I Be You” and definitive closer “Boys Don’t Cry.”
The lighting, backdrop imagery and set design was one of the most immersive and gorgeous I’ve ever seen within the shell of the Bowl, with intense hues of purple, red, green and blue drenching throughout, flashing white lights during the jammy segments and paneled screens that illustrated related visuals for almost every number (a fluorescent, Blair Witch-ish tree scene for “A Forest,” a sinister red and black spider web for “Lullaby”). Perhaps the band didn't want any close-ups, because the only cameras were placed near the bottom edges of the stage, making the giant screens flanking the stage a parade of constant crotch shots and lots of leg action by the band’s bassist, Simon Gallup.
Still, production on the whole complimented what was happening on stage, especially when the band rocked their graying heads off. Don’t let the 57-year-old Smith’s omnipresent red lipstick and guy-liner fool you; he can be a monster on the guitar and his riffs still rage.
Save for a few languid parts, this was a high-energy rock show of the highest order. Smith’s band these days features David Bowie’s long time guitarist Reeves Gabrels, and his dense and potent playing elevated the classic renditions Sunday (most of which were faithful to the original recordings, though some veered off slightly). Mostly it was Smith’s vocals that changed things up, in subtle cadence or tempo. But however he chose to sing, his whiny croon remained as wondrously emotive as ever. No one will ever sound like Robert Smith, and it's a gift to hear him still do it.
The Cure have not waned in skill or showmanship one bit since I saw them bring L.A. audiences to tears at the Pantages in 2011 and inspire an a cappella sing-along (after they broke curfew and their sound was cut) at Coachella in 2009. Whether focusing on the gloomy early days or the giddy later ones, they are one of the best live bands still doing it today. We got 32 songs last night, but this tour has been averaging about 40. You get your money’s worth with the iconic band, that’s for sure. And whatever the next set list looks like, or however many encores they decide to do the next two nights in L.A. or rest of the tour, it will be as passionate as it is powerful 'til the bittersweet end.
Pictures of You
A Night Like This
In Between Days
The End of the World
Just Like Heaven
One Hundred Years
It Can Never Be the Same
Shake Dog Shake
Piggy in the Mirror
All I Want
Give Me It
Step Into the Light
Hot Hot Hot!!!
Close to Me
Why Can't I Be You?
Boys Don't Cry