READING FESTIVAL 24 August 2012 : THE CURE, PARAMORE, GRAHAM COXON, THE HIVES, SPECTOR
Tape/Open, High, The End of the World, Lovesong, Sleep When I'm Dead, Push, Inbetween Days, Just Like Heaven, Pictures of You, Lullaby, The Caterpillar, The Walk, Friday I'm In Love, Doing the Unstuck, Trust, From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea, Bananafishbones, Play For Today, A Forest, Primary, Want, The Hungry Ghost, Wrong Number, One Hundred Years, End
Encore: Dressing Up, The Lovecats, Close To Me, Just One Kiss, Let's Go To Bed, Why Can't I Be You?, Boys Don't Cry
I used to go to Festivals all the time. Weekends, camped out, surrounded by people shouting “BOLLOCKS!” and “GAY BAR! GAY BAR!” all night long : I'm showing my age there. Sleeping at dawn, waking up sweating in the noon sun, not washing properly for a week, eating junk, and knowing that I couldn't do this forever. All part of the fun. Has the world changed? Or have I changed? Or have I just got used to the amenities of running water, comfortable beds, and other indulgence?
Festivals used to be something else. I'm not really nostalgic for what they used to be, but they've evolved. From a weekend hit of manic pop thrills it's now just another event. A weekend away, with an excuse to kick back, let go, and experience some music. It used to be we live and breathe for this. Now, it's just a thing to do one weekend. And look, it's on TV!
Sure there were some other bands : Spector made a good meld of a somewhat dated but contemporary mix of glamourous indie, rock n roll, and pop. The Hives absolutely dominate the stage with some of the finest showmanship I have ever seen : so much so “Tick Tock Boom” has the crowd in a moshpit outside the tent. Graham Coxon competently performs a set of unspectacular rock. Paramore have the crowd shouting aplenty : and a huge queue outside the signing tent several hours before they appear. Aside from Paramore, maybe it's more that the bands don't mean as much to some people now.
And thus, during The Cure, performing “One Hundred Years” (opening lyric is the oft-quoted it doesn't matter if we all die), I am standing probably twenty feet from the stage, surrounded by about 20 or so people in fluroscent green sunglasses, fake 80's face paint and retro white vests, gabbering on loudly about SOMETHING, shit knows what, that has nothing to do with the what is happening right in front of their eyes. I don't remember gig goers being quite so rude. This is real and happening, and all you want to do is talk about something else? Leave. There are millions of square miles in the world where The Cure aren't playing right now, go there.
I know The Cure may be viewed by many as old, or perhaps out of date. I never followed trends then. I don't know. I find what I like, what speaks to me, and reflects my journey through life. That is my music. Some old. Some new. New stuff I find harder to connect to : lyrically, my life is not in a rock n roll place. I'm not looking for a Fire Woman, a hot new love, drugs, or some kind of abstract tale, I'm interested in songs that help me make my way through this weird thing called life and reflect what bothers me now. Not pension plans, but at the same token, not getting fucked out of my box at a weekend. Been there. Done it. Want to do something else now.
In front of me, some very tall person, with a fake Robert Smith frightwig. I've come all this way, and spent all this money and all I can see is someones fake hairdo. I'm not exactly a dwarf at five foot eleven. But I can't see what I came to see, and experience what I came to experience, because something is in the way of the experience. Besides. They haven't played a hit yet. When they're in the 80th minute, and the deep album cuts of “Trust”, “From The Edge of The Deep Green Sea”, and “Bananafishbones” bore the pants off the casual fan, I'm left feeling as if I am watching some glorious event with a detachment, or through a glass screen, or obscured by hair, hats and sunglasses. The audience, to be blunt, are as dead as a doornail. They are passively watching, or filming with their fucking iPhone. They are here, but they are not here. They're always somewhere else. They are thinking carefully. I need to document this, I need to prove I was here, I need to tick off my Bucket List “I Am SEEING THE CURE.”
Yes, you saw The Cure. But you didn't experience it. To experience The Cure you have to be willing to go there : to engage in the highs and the lows. The pop thrills of “High”, “The End Of The World”, “Lovesong”, “Sleep When I'm Dead”, “Inbetween Days”, ”Just Like Heaven”, “Pictures of You”, “Lullaby”, “The Caterpillar”, “The Walk” and “Friday I'm In Love” within the first hour see the band open the big pop gate and let loose a dozen or so hits in a row. Sadly, the crowd is somewhat oblivious – cheering for “Lovesong” and “Friday I'm In Love”, but standing mostly stock still for the 40 minutes inbetween. This isn't like any Cure show I have seen before. An audience that yawns with boredom during “Just Like Heaven” is mostly made of cloth eared heathens. Despite this, the bands critical and commercial rehabilitation after a somewhat deliberate downsizing of the past twenty years seems due – and probably absent.
Twenty years is a long time. Then, when I was less than half my age, I queued overnight to buy £10 tickets for The Cure at Nottingham Rock City. That night The Cure watched football, and played from 10.00 to 1.45am. It seems so long ago. But also, barely the blink of an eye. Of that band, only two – the immortal Robert Smith and his permanent partner in crime Simon Gallup – remain. Roger O Donnell – only 25 years on/off service – and Jason Cooper on drums with a mere 17 years service are still newbies in some respects. They are joined on a somewhat impermanent basis by Reeves Gabrels, David Bowie's longtime wingman and secret powerhouse in the underated and often-awful Tin Machine, adding guitar muscle to augment the departed Porl Thompson.
Back in 1989, Robert Smith described The Cure as a ever changing rolypoly that would always roll over and reinvent itself. Always the same, always different. And tonight is more of the same. The eighth lineup I have seen of the band. Reeves role is to add and bulk out the second guitar role the band have had since 1982 : the role occupied by Porl, who could make a guitar sound like a jetplane assualting a lawnmower. Here, his sound and presence isn't as authoritative or confident, the sound thinner and more delicate, his movements more restrained and polite. It completes the sound, but in a tasteful, understated way.
Not that this is The Cure as some static entity. The band have always evolved. Yet, at the heart of it, its always been essentially The Cure. One thing that shines through all night is just how under-rated, and integral to the bands huge sound is Simon Gallup's bass. Huge chunks of low frequencies rumble through the field that underpin the songs. Gallup prowls the stage with an enthusiasm that I've rarely seen, especially on the earlier, faster material. Certainly he seems more engaged and invigorated now than he did twenty years ago. But it's not a Cure crowd. And it shows. Some of the crowd simply drift away as the set progresses and the songs become louder, and darker. “Want” growls. “End” roars. But the audience don't want that. They want comfort. They want safe, happyish pop songs.
Oh look, time to check out The Maccabees, or The Vaccines. Or someone like that.
Sadly, some of the better numbers from their so-far final studio record “4:13 Dream” have been excised from the set : only two songs from it appear. Though almost as many songs from “Wish” appear (6) as did when they toured it in 1992. And, even in a 32 song set, there's room to lament the absence of "10.15 Saturday Night", "Killing An Arab", “Never Enough”, “Fascination Street”, “Hot Hot Hot!!!”, “Mint Car”, “Catch”, “The Only One”.
But the band have to make a concession and play the hits, which – for the first hour and last half hour are wall to wall exploding around your ears. But this isn't a Cure crowd.
Well.. maybe. I don't remember it being quite so obviously an excuse for people to get shitfaced, jump up and down to music they don't know, and shout loudly. I remember these being about well, music. These days, a festival is a weekend away. A holiday.
I'm not exactly expecting the knicker-wetting estrogen storm of a Take That show, but something other than the abject boredom of 35,000 people and a keen intensity of a random packing of 5,000 or so would be comforting. The Cure always had a knack of making you feel alone when surrounded by a crowd – perhaps never more so than now.
After the end of the first hour then, timed almost to the second as “Doing The Unstuck” fades away, the band usher in a darker second half, punctuated with angrier, mostly earlier, album tracks. Roger O'Donnell may have returned for a third sojurn in the group, but oddly, on “Trust” which he had no role in writing, his input has transformed the song – previously a relatively sparse ballad – into a dense, atmospheric wander, with new atmospheres, keyboard parts and textures that enrich the song. Finally, “Trust” becomes the song it could have always been. Simon leans into Roger often, with the kind of comfortable body language that comes with a quarter century of experience.
Though for Reading, this is the death knell for the audience. The crowd apparently visibly thins as the two and a half hour set progresses : the set contains such relative obscurities as “Bananafishbones” and “The Caterpillar” getting their first UK performances on mainland soil since 1984, and “Just One Kiss” being played in the UK for the first time ever. It's not really aimed at pleasing people, but providing an authentic Cure experience to visitors. The rest of the second hour is dispatched with the kind of intense commitment of a typical show, locked into an undulating rollercoaster ride of happy/misery, pop/pain, and so on and so forth. Aside from the earlier hits of “Primary”, “Play For Today” and “A Forest”, it's a barren hour of unrewarding introspection for people in hats and sunglasses who probably weren't born when I first saw them : people who dance for four minutes every hour when a big hit turns up and talk loudly when an album track is played. And, with something off every record barring 2000's “Bloodflowers”, there is always something. Not always want the people want.
The set ends at 23.07 with “End” in a roar of feedback.
The encore includes “Close To Me” and “The Lovecats” : at this point the band have been on something like 130 minutes. The Audience is thinning, flagging. The Cure deserve better for their first mainland UK festival show in eight years.
“Just One Kiss” confuses. Stripped of its studio incarnation, the song rolls on pounding drums and inticate bass, sounding much like the Pornography era it immediately followed. And then it's followed by the pop thrill of “Let's Go To Bed”, “Why Can't I Be You?” and the final, storming “Boys Don't Cry”.
As we roll out of the site, I put on the television and see on BBC3 what I saw with my own eyes less than an hour ago, still fresh in my memory. It is odd to see the past become history. What will matter is not what I experience, what I saw, how I felt. What will matter is what was on TV.