THE CURE London Royal Albert Hall 29 March 2014
At 45 songs, and 3 hours, 34 minutes this is the longest Cure show I have seen, of many. This is the longest Cure show on British soil, ever. This is The Cure, in their late fifties, still as good as they ever were. This is The Cure, a band that could so very easily have been a dated flash in the pan, one-and-gone nostalgia act like many of their once contemporaries that they have wonderfully eclipsed, as one of a handful of bands from their world that deserve, more than deserve, the adoration they receive.
In a night of highlights, The Cure are simply one the best live acts in the known universe. A night plagued by technical hitches – so much so that Robert Smith points out before 'A Forest', “I hope we all play in time for this song, unlike the last one”. A night where Reeves guitars frequently stop working. As the first 'new' non-returning Cure member in 25 years, Reeves has the unusual place of having to win over fans attention : he's also the first Cure member with an obvious history of being in other bands (such as being David Bowie's guitarist for many many years), and thus, Reeves is an unusual choice of the band, but then, when he squeals out any solo you can imagine with a note-perfect passion, he's a strong foil to match Robert Smiths often underappreciated skills. In the meantime, Roger O Donnell's keyboards often misbehave. (During one song - “Close To Me”, he largely plays one handed whilst alternately gesticulating to the engineer, fiddling with cables, or laughing with Simon Gallup about the absurdity of it all). And, at another point, during “A Forest”, Roger takes his setlist, folds it into a paper plane and throws into the front row when as the song takes an extended ending.
This is live music at its best : whilst confusingly paced, as all Cure sets are, in a rollercoaster of lows and highs, racing from top 10 pop hits to 10 minute epics about suicide in the time it takes to change guitars, The Cure don't play it easy. And why should they? Tonight there are four songs that even I, a veteran of 8 lineups and 25 years of Cure gigs, haven't seen – in the shape of “2 Late”, “Stop Dead”, “Harold And Joe” and “Catch”. 25 songs tonight are hits, with 3 b-sides, and 14 deep album selections, almost all of which have been common fixtures of the live setlists since inception.
There's also evidence, in abundance, of The Cure's position as a band that is simultanoeusly all things to all men as a very particular and individual band of no small quirk ; the first half hour is a exercise in all things maudlin, with a concentrated dose of intensity - tonight's “Prayer For Rain” scream is a mere 16 seconds, but then, within seconds, it's all forgotten as a early dose of hits - “Push”, “Inbetween Days”, and 11 a-sides in a 12 song span, push the venue from a reserved crowd into singing, dancing, whirling mass of happyish children of all ages, up to the gods. In the interim, there is only the second ever live performance of b-side “2 Late”, the fourth live performance of “Jupiter Crash” in 18 years, and more songs from “Wild Mood Swings” than any show since the year it came out. After an hour of solid pop hits, it's the usual dark half closing half hour, with an immaculately executed “100 Years” and an exhaustive “Disintegration.”
With a show this long, and this intense, it's roughly akin to watching a DVD Box Set in one sitting. You cannot concentrate on this intensely for every second of the set, and thus, the crowd ebbs and flows in attention : one pair leave before 9.45 (when the band still have 90 minutes and 21 songs left). At other points I have to focus my attention in short bursts, an hour or so of connection, a handful of moments just observing, absorbing, whilst the band perform, which reminds me of seeing Pink Floyd, a band where the set is so exhaustive in scope and length that the mind cannot help but drift, meditate, consider the world, watch the room around you connect with the sound.
For me, it's the opening encore “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep”, (which has always been a mogadon dirge), and “Shake Dog Shake” which whilst more than adequate, holds a beloved place in the setlist I cannot fathom. And then it's “Fascination Street” which rumbles like an angry god. Watching this band, what is clear is that Simon Gallup, who joined in 1980, is a much unsung talent in the band, his hypnotic and minimal basslines crucially underpinning the songs with a dependable character and melody. Roger O Donnell meanwhile, keyboard player since 1987 in his third tenure with the band, effortlessly recalls near enough any song from the ouevre fluently. Oddly, despite the last time the band played here in 2011 – when they put the first three records and b-sides live, there's only 9 songs of that marathon 42 song set here.
And, like every other time I have seem The Cure, the band give their all, to the point where they can barely play anymore, and every show feels like the best one ever. In retrospect, some of them, such as Reading 2012, Manchester 2004, or Roskilde 2001 were good but not great, and the others, mostly indoor shows, were much better. Tonight is no exception. And, after “Bananafishbones”, the final hour is 12 hit singles in a row, dispatched ruthlessly, giving us everything we want, including the songs I'd certainly forgotten, such as “Close To Me”, that when you hear them, you suddenly realise, yes, of course, how could I have forgotten? There's air keyboards, there's couples dancing in the aisles – and one couple with a stony faced nonfan sat down barely tolerating the wretched ordeal on his girlfriends behalf next to me ; during “Doing The Unstuck”, she sings to him loudly “Lets Get Standing Up!), an hour later he suggests during “100 Years” I might want to sit down so as not as liven up his obvious boredom as I was quite near him. If you don't like it, leave.
Whilst the rest of the stalls dance and sing and play air guitars and at one point air keyboards. The real test of any show is how loud the crowd is during only-ever-an-LP-song “Push”, and “Play For Today.” The answer? Very.
At gone 11.00pm, the band return for a third, final encore with songs 43,44, and 45, with “Boys Don't Cry” (Roger O Donnell picks up the easy job of tambourine), and a final storming gutpunch of “10.15 Satuyrday Night” and “Killing An Arab” which storms and burns and at the end, drummer Jason Cooper – after playing something like 12,000 drum hits across 215 minutes, numbly sits exhausted for several seconds before leaving the stage. The Cure are one of the finest live bands in the world. You should visit their universe.
Prayers For Rain
A Strange Day
A Night Like This
Friday I'm In Love
Doing The Unstuck
Pictures Of You
Harold And Joe
Sleep When I'm Dead
Just Like Heaven
From The Edge of The Deep Green Sea
The Hungry Ghost
If Only Tonight We Could Sleep
Shake Dog Shake
Play For Today
Hot Hot Hot
Lets Go To Bed
Close To Me
Why Can't Be You?
Boys Don't Cry
Killing An Arab