You might say Christmas has come early for Cure fans, starved of new material since Robert Smith teased them with the promise of a rapid follow up to the 4:13 Dream album – in 2008. The Cure’s legendary 3-hour sets are not for casual fans, not that any are here; any fair weathers would have been elbowed in the face for tickets before they could say ‘will they play Friday I’m In Love?’
Immensely popular, the Cure can be heard throughout modern music; they are no longer a cult, but have found a global niche. They are rock’s least likely success story. At their heart of course is Robert Smith, a man who’s had less of a bad hair day and more of a bad hair career. And from the scratchy, well-knitted guitar lines of Pictures Of You – New Order minus the MDMA – to the forlorn ‘I know we have to go’ of a slow-burning Out Of This World from 2000’s Bloodflowers , nothing has changed.
The sound is immense, as original bass player Simon Gallup stalks the stage like he’s auditioning for Guns ‘N Roses. A neglected lust lies at the heart of these songs: the country walk rush of High, to the swamp funk and machine gun drums of The Walk, to the krautrock early Simple Minds of The Push. You have to admire Adele for covering it, but thankfully they reclaim Love Song’s bedsit romance as their own.
The defiant Play For Today provokes terrace chants, and although BloodFlowers’ title track gropes around unsuccessfully for a tune, the poetry of Primary keeps its rock on the perfect leash. And it’s the inclusion of these darker album tracks that prevents it from being a festival set, and pleases the fans.
Smith stands in a rare spotlight for Three Imaginary Boys and you’re reminded of how they’ve always stayed our side of the velvet rope. Although Bowie’s guitarist Reeves Gabrels has been a Cure band member since 2012, there’s never been any superstar feats. Gabrels sears out skyscraping riffs on Burn, as they twist their sound through so many ports-of-call that it’s impossible to discern if they’re magpie or originator.
As ever, it’s an epic set. The Forest is welcomed like an oldest friend, with the sort of echoed guitar that keeps the Edge awake at night. Any doubts about arena sound will have been put to bed, as will fears of a tendency for meandering sets. Tonight it’s a Cure jukebox, as the visuals magnify each of Smith’s self hugs; not that he needs them, the crowd hold him to their hearts all night.
They disappear countless times, presumably to apply hair spray, and return for a customary 20 encores. For the casual fan it might feel like being at the best party no one invited you to, but it’s not too late to stay. Leave your gothic gloom preconceptions at the door. They even play a needless Love Cats and a massive Hot Hot Hot. But it’s the crisp lines and jerky riffs of Killing an Arab that carry us home.
The debut novel The Life Assistance Agency is available now here – myBook.to/lifeassistance , and in all good bookshops, including Foyles.