The Cure bring their latest tour to Manchester and Getintothis’ Banjo was lucky enough to be there.
The Cure are perhaps an odd band for the world’s stadia.
Traditionally, the bands who make it to the dizzying heights of selling out the world’s biggest venues have done so by writing songs that appeal to people en masse, songs that are unchallenging, have catchy hooks & melodies and, preferably, contain lots of “Whoooaa’s” for the crowd to sing along to.
The Cure have never subscribed to this view and seem to have got to this position simply by being themselves. Although they have had their dalliances with pop music, the albums that are generally regarded as their classics are the ones that are also their darkest or least accessible, such as Disintegration or Pornography.
The Cure’s audience seems as diverse as their back catalogue, as goths, rockers of many hues and a horde of older types mix freely. Their strength lies not just in having the songs to suit all of their fan types, but in having the stamina to play them live in a single show.
The latest reports filtering back from other dates on their latest world tour tell of mammoth three hour sets and multiple encores, playing selections from throughout their 13 album career and even word of new songs appearing at some shows.
Although it is eight years since the band released a new album, they have never gone away and tour the globe regularly – if their drive to create new music has left them, the desire to play has not.
Gigs of this stature are difficult for some bands to pull off, the sheer scale of things making it hard for the band to communicate to their audience. The Cure however are old hands at this, having progressed to the top tier a long while ago, and their experience shows.
Opening with an unexpected Shake Dog Shake, The Cure head off onto a Best Of set rather than a Greatest Hits. The stage and lighting look impressive throughout, the five video screens behind the band being used to great effect throughout the show.
For the opening number, each screen focuses on a different member of the band in grainy blue and white. The camera tracking bassist Simon Gallup certainly had its work cut out for it, as the man never stood still for the whole gig. At one point Gallup even pulled off the stadium rock standby of turning and running across the stage while playing.
One criticism is that the screens at either side of the stage are simply too small for a venue of this side. Far from making everything clearly visible and more visible for the poor unfortunates at the back of the venue, the impression was a little like watching the gig on a flatscreen TV.
Running straight into A Night Like This for their second song, usually played later in their set, it becomes apparent that The Cure have a canon of songs so extensive that they can play with their setlist to keep themselves and their audiences on their toes. The Walk, echoes this, as this is a song often saved for encores.
Push, from 1985’s Head on the Door is next up and is one of the evening’s highlights. The joy and euphoria of The Cure’s lighter moments is undeniable, Push’s extended intro being particularly affecting.
The same album provides the next two songs, Sinking and In Between Days, as we are taken back to one of The Cure’s many peaks.
Smith’s voice seems unchanged by the passing of the years, although there are those uncharitable souls who would argue that he always sounded like an old woman anyway. There is also a certain stable charm in his refusal to give up the badly drawn make up and rats nest hair.
He has a look distinctive enough to have become a trademark, and he refuses to let the fact that he is now 57 mean that he change this to grow older in one way or another. And who can blame him? He is still the commander of a band that sound as tight and impressive as they ever have. The image of a Smith entering a comfortable middle age is one that we have mercifully been spared.
The band are on sparkling form, and now seem rehearsed and proficient enough to have worked off most of their more angular edges. When they play One Hundred Years, from their classic but tortured Pornography album, it is a version that sounds stadium friendly, which is quite a feat when you consider the source material.
— Sandy Sharples (@Sanderella1) November 29, 2016
Smith and guitarist Reeves Gabrels seem to lose their way a little on this song, playing against each other for a few bars until they lock back into the song’s main riff together. Gabrels must be commended here for his restraint, both in terms of playing to suit The Cure’s style and in being happy to stay in Smith’s shade, which many guitarists of his ability and pedigree may struggle with.
On Primary, the band really take off. The sound peaks and fills the whole of the arena with what was originally an awkward post punk single, featuring two basses and without guitars or keys. Want and The Hungry Ghost bring things forward in time a little and then, after 16 songs the band walk off stage.
Encores at Cure gigs have achieved legendary status often stretching over several reappearances and running for 12 or more songs, longer than many bands entire gigs. It is something of a surprise then that the first two encores contain but one song each. Admittedly the first encore of A Forest is a stunning version and lasts for a good while, but the whole thing seems to be finishing a lot sooner than reports from other gigs on their tours have led us to expect.
Ah Barcelona you were wonderful! Now packing for Manchester…Never Enough
Encore number three saves us to some degree, being a five song run through Lullaby, Friday I’m in Love, Boys Don’t Cry, Close to Me and Why Can’t I Be You. And then they’re off. Smith seems to be miming having a sore throat to the crowd, which might explain why their set was 23 songs rather than the 33 song set we have heard of.
Then again, complaining about a band playing for two and a quarter hours might seem a little churlish, particularly when the setlist and the band themselves were as good as they were tonight. In a way, perhaps The Cure have become a victim of their own success in that no matter how long they play for there will always be favourites that are inevitably missed out on and more encores that could be played.
Nitpicking aside, this was a magnificent gig and The Cure proved yet again that they are still, after almost 40 years, still on of the best live bands around.
Photos by Getintothis’ Sakura