If you’re not a fan, watching a Cure concert is the emotional equivalent of watching a fungus grow: the murky, effects-laden swell of guitars all blur together with Robert Smith’s antagonistic whimper, sounding like a slow wash of tuneless angst, but to the initiated it can be an emotionally draining and profoundly fulfilling experience. The Cure reeks of nostalgia. Every album the band released in the eighties defined that particular year in some way. From the sparse yet tightly wound guitar pop of 17 Seconds to the graphic new wave deconstruction of Pornography, The Cure always managed to sound both dated and ahead of its time: in essence, a mass of contradictions. How can the same band that released an album as streamlined and depressing as Faith also be responsible for a trite, ‘everybody’s working for the weekend anthem’ like “Friday I’m In Love?”
While it’s never been fashionable to listen to The Cure, it was at one time, sort of, subversive. The danger may be long gone, but the overwhelming sense of nostalgia still presses emotional buttons no matter how much you may try to fight it. I miss the years when Robert Smith was on so much acid that he didn’t even know who was in the band with him. He gave up the drugs and the music went limp in many ways. Correlation? There’s no question. The booze didn’t exactly set the pen afire with bright ideas (Wish, Wild Mood Swings). Bloodflowers, however, tries to recapture the dark and ugly side of the band, but ends up sounding like a trip down memory lane, where everything is safe and familiar. It’s pretty and coherent, but it sounds like a fading portrait. Bloodflowers is no Pornography. To this day Pornography is a bitter pill to swallow but ranks as one of the most disturbing and essential albums of its decade. Time has not dulled its edges. The music burns and the lyrics are venomous. Bloodflowers by contrast is a tame lullaby with twinkling keyboards and lush arrangements.
Robert Smith knows how to manipulate us, though. It’s no accident that the band’s current setlist consists mainly of the darker reaches of its oeuvre. The opening date of The Dream Tour in Atlanta, Georgia delivered the goods. This show was designed to please the hardcore fans, almost certainly disappointing the stray yuppies and teenyboppers who typically yell out “play show me, show me.” You’ve got to give Smith credit: if he just wanted to cash in he could have played all the pop hits in an endless, emotionless string. Instead, The Cure sought out to relive the emotional impact of tours past, pulling out obscurities that only the dorks who read the message boards at fan sites drool over. The Bloodflowers songs sounded more life-like and virulent than they do on record, particularly “Watching Me Fall” and “There Is No If.” The band played with uncharacteristic energy. Bassist Simon Gallup pogoed all over the stage (even on the trudging numbers). Perhaps, the band set the standards high since this may in fact be the last tour.
The Cure has always sounded grand and imposing in concert, and this line-up certainly has the theatrics down pat. The light show was state of the art, matching the tone and tension of each song (even the color when applicable). “Shake Dog Shake” was a surprising bonus. It sounded just as furious and maniacal as it did sixteen years ago on The Top. “Sinking”, off the underrated The Head On The Door, brought the concert to an early peak. The band hit every cue, and Smith punched his voice in all the right places, rivaling the version off the classic concert film, The Cure In Orange. The setlist equally balanced old and new, avoiding singles when at all possible. Tracks off Disintegration sounded especially heartfelt, but the fiery blast of “The Kiss” from 1987’s tour de force Kiss me Kiss Me Kiss Me upstaged many of the classic live staples. The band closed its initial set with a smattering of songs off Bloodflowers, including the prophetic title track.
Living up to the promise of a three-hour show, The Cure returned to the stage for three encores. The band got the obligatory “Just Like Heaven” out of the way for true gems like “Play For Today” and “A Forest” (no "10:15 Saturday Night, no "Boys Don't Cry, no "Killing And Arab"- the band stuck to its guns, avoiding the obvious crowd pleasers). Typically, Smith botched the lyrics to "Play For Today", but it's the thought that counts, I guess. The absolute highlight of the concert, however, was from the Faith album. "All Cats Are Grey" sounded majestic and surreal. The title track always manages to cast a pall over the audience. It's an affecting song, and Smith approaches it with delicacy and reverence. Why thousands of people show up to be deliberately made unhappy is a strange anomaly. I've never understood how such private music could be communicated in such a public way. The Cure has never made sense, but at least its bowing out with its head held high.