Benicasim Festival, Valencia, Spain, August 3 2002
"We're either considered a really gloomy group that inspires suicides or
we're a bunch of whimsical whackos" Robert Smith once said. One look at him and
longest-term collaborator Simon Gallup could confirm both suspicions. The band
leader and his bass player are after all two weird looking geezers, made-up
Smith looking like a slightly younger Liz Collins while lyrcra-panted Gallup
could be the one who got away from one of those awful glam bands of the 80s.
Image aside, the band was in fine form this night, the hired guns all younger looking and sounding better than the classic Cure outfit did on many an outing. The cold, efficient cohesion between the group early on leads one to suspect that the recent greatest hits collection may not have solved Smith's financial worries sufficiently and this therefore is the money exercise to compensate for weak sales. "These flowers will always die..." after all, sings Smith somewhat appropriately on "Shake, Shake, Shake." It could hardly be described as a greatest hits evening either however. "Why Can't I Be You?" was one of the few popular numbers early on in the set. The songs had the Cure trademark stamped on their every part however, sounding as disturbing and claustrophobic as the all-encroaching black of Smith's appearance.
The energy of his performance and the virtuosity of his guitars left no doubt that there's a lot of pop left in this ageing rocker. On "Real Lives" Smith, lipstick smudged, walked through thick clouds of mist, leaving us to wonder if he'll be there or not when they rise. Then there he is, fat and stodgy but the hair electrified as always. It's branding surely, the most recognisable trademark of this relic of earlier decades struggling for significance in today's music scene. Cracked and crazy them may have often appeared, but the Cure know a thing or two about the business and branding, as evidenced by the bizarre copyright contract their manager forced photographers to sign before the show. (A copy of every shot must be sent to the Cure's HQ afterwards.)
"Someone Else's Life" remains that eerie, heart-wrenching ballad, a spine chilling demonstration of Smith's unique way with melancholic lyrics. "Any Old Love Song" is an even better exhibit of same. Isn't it sad I thought, watching Smith, like a veteran returned from a long war, wrapped in his black cardigan type thing, arms folded, walking back and over at the front of the stage. He was bemused perhaps, or confused. The crowd after all was hardly of his generation, most of them in nappies when the Cure was registering its biggest hits.
When Smith did shift into third gear, his performance is remarkably fresh. His is such a painterful, melancholic voice that you imagine it to evoking seasonal scenes. Icy, winter scenes. The songs and the melodies reek however of creatures of the eighties. Mid-set songs like "Kiss Me, Kiss Me" do after all represent probably the best of pop-rock from the eighties and one can appreciate the attraction of the group for those legions of devoted, fanatical Cure heads, in a decade of supreme selfishness starved of the type of emotional exploration pioneered by the Cure.
"Out of This World", "Plainsong", "Open" and "Siamese Twins" are rolled out in quick succession, proving this band hasn't dropped any of its great sense of melody and rhythm. Lush arrangements figure on "Pornography" and "Disintegration", before the low point of the night surfaces in Gone! The song features some horribly mediocre lyrics, which, I'm nearly certain, a muddled Smith was improvising "...The fire is almost done... / there's nothing left to burn.." he repeated in a slow motion kind of way which killed any energy or audience good will the tune should have enjoyed.
The group were clearly catching their stride in the third quarter of the show, after some fat, powerful guitar combos shook the audience. This is a guitar heavy Cure, but some of the string bending set-pieces seemed too much like fillers however for a moody Smith who seemed intent on drawing them out when singing seemed too much a chore.
The vocalist flashes a big cheer up smile however before the second encore. "My preferred on-stage time would be another two hours. I feel like another six or seven encores" said he in his Crawley accent. He bowed out very gracefully however, saving the very best for last. "In Between Days" and "Boys Don't Cry" were the only two Cure songs which could guarantee a roar from this audience. And so it ended, sweetly, joyously, but sadly. Robert Smith after all told journalists just before the show that this would be one of the Cure's last shows ever, before his solo career begins. Alas, "...There is no one else left in the world..."