2016 is the year that The Cure — as an entity, as a name and as a band — celebrates its 40th anniversary. Although only bouffant figurehead and co-founder Robert Smith still remains, the legacy paved by him and the various personnel who have stationed themselves within the fold is at once undeniable and partially unfathomable.
Here, a gloomy British band born out of the post-punk era in a blaze of smudged makeup and introverted-bookworm lyricism, still stands tall as a comfortable arena-filler and sizeable Splendour In The Grass headliner, even though they’ve not had a shred of noted chart success in over two decades. There is no other band at their level that sounds even remotely like them, and, by the same token, no band that sounds like them even remotely at their level.
What, then, is the secret to The Cure’s survival? Truth be told, it’s all in the live show. Albums have sprung up here and there in the 21st century for the band — the last one arriving as 4:13 Dream in 2008 — but The Cure have kept their rainy-day spirit alive, primarily through performing their most celebrated works to a global audience.
Let’s break down the gargantuan beast that is the band’s Sydney Splendour sideshow: 36 songs are played in total, with 18 played in the main set and the rest broken up across four (count ’em, four) encores. It’s paced impressively and curated well, knowing to keep a balance between deep cuts for the die-hards and greatest hits for the more casual fans, who were almost certainly dragged along tonight by someone in the former category.
For every obscurity such as 1987’s Like Cockatoos and 2004’s The End Of The World, mainstays like Lovesong and Just Like Heaven follow in quick succession. It never goes too far off either edge. Just when you think a lull is settling in, you’re knocked out of your seat once again.
Smith, at 57, still knows his way around both an angsty wail and a sunny chorus; his vocal delivery is practically evergreen at this point. He’s surrounded by an exceptional version of the band, including mainstay bassist Simon Gallup — here making the most of both the vast arena stage and his wireless set-up — as well as relative newcomer to the fold, Reeves Gabrels, on guitar — a musician who is equally understated as he is proficient. It’s a striking contrast, too, when Gebrels lets loose on a solo or a lead break, his fret-melting skills are a complete shock to the system, and yet he’ll simply resume picking out notes moments later, as if nothing ever happened.
When the fourth encore arrives, the end is in sight and no one is safe. The second Jason Cooper swishes his way into the jazzy drum intro of beloved 1983 crossover hit The Love Cats, seats are promptly vacated and it is quite literally ‘on’ for both young and old.
Who would dare deny the new-wave rush of The Walk, the swing of Why Can’t I Be You? or the anthemic nature of Boys Don’t Cry? If you answered anything other than ‘no one’, then this simply isn’t the show for you.
For everyone else, there are comings-of-age to be revisited, youths to be reclaimed and a new generation to inherit these classic tunes at the ready. An evening with The Cure is a celebration, not just of 40 years’ worth of great music, but of the people that have allowed it to enter their lives along the way. Not even the most hardline goth could deny the joy that comes with a show like this.
The Cure play Splendour In The Grass sideshows in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth throughout the rest of July. Details here.
Gallery: The Cure – Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney 25.07.16 / Photos: Ashley Mar