Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Cure - Live x 5

Sydney Entertainment Centre 18 Aug 1992
Sydney Entertainment Centre 14 Oct 2000
Sydney Entertainment Centre 15 Oct 2000
Sydney Entertainment Centre 09 Aug 2007
Sydney Entertainment Centre 10 Aug 2007

The Cure = teenage years, of course of course. I'm pretty fond of my teenage self, I reckon he was a pain in the arse but he still knew a thing or two. Driving through hilly suburbia in an eternal late summer, listening to Ride, obsessed with girls, creating angst and misery from perfectly agreeable circumstances. Robert Smith loomed large in those days, larger than even the giant lipstick-wearing potato of today. I never saw a peak-period Cure show, the closest I came was seeing the Wish tour in 1992. This was almost the same line-up as the legendary Prayer Tour shows of 1989 (disappointingly minus keyboardist Roger O'Donnell). They played well but the intensity wasn't there, and even a Prayer Tour show would have sucked in the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Realistically they probably sucked in most of the massive arenas they played on that tour, the clinically beautiful recording of Entreat creating unrealistic expectations for fautless Cure live experiences.

In 2000 I saw two shows on the Dream Tour, a conscious attempt to recapture the intensity and drama of the band's "dark" classics (Disintegration, Faith, Pornography). (I've always loved this duality in the Cure's music, the comfortable juxtapositon of crushing gloom and giddy pop - real life contains these kind of vertiginous shifts in experience). The shows were quite moving, the setlists laden with choice pearls from the back catalogue. The band were a bit lumpen compared to the wonderfully sparky and flexible Gallup/Thompson/Williams core but Smith's singing, playing and strange presence were still compelling. The tour was sponsored by classic rock radio station MMM, and was notable for its lack of classic rock radio tracks. Seeing Smith maltreat his guitar over the fascistic cheering crowd samples of Pornography while the real (capacity) crowd looked on nonplussed was an unexpectedly great punk rock moment.

Re the setlists: The Cure always had "special" songs that fans felt lucky to have caught live - Faith is arguably the jewel, also The Same Deep Water As You, Forever, a few more. As a young obsessive I would dream of the moment when the drums to Faith would start up and I would realise that I was part of a privileged audience, bestowed with this rare treat. It was unhealthy really! This notion of preserving the power of certain precious songs seems to be a bit of a lost art, perhaps there are bands that still do it but the internet age has made it a lot easier for bands to fashion fan-pleasing setlists should they so desire. It's an interesting idea, similar in essence to Prince "withholding" Purple Rain from an arena show so he could play it at full power at The Basement later that evening. The Dream Tour was notable for the high rotation of highly-"desirable" deep cuts, with Faith featuring pretty regularly (alongside All Cats Are Grey, The Drowning Man, Siamese Twins, The Figurehead etc). It was great to see all those songs live but it was also slightly disappointing, somehow, to have them served up so readily. At the same time, the tour seems to have been concieved as a sort of "gift to the fans" so I'll take it with good grace.

It was certainly a very affecting weekend, kinda built a bridge between the spiky optimism of my teenage years and the slightly tired and jaded figure of my late 20's. It was a time I felt I had lost my way somewhat, and being moved to tears by Plainsong and Like Cockatoos was a fantastic way to get my bearings. A million of these banal little personal stories folded inside big-time rock biographies. My key memory from the show is watching Robert Smith on the second night, standing as close as I probably dared to dream in my "perfect" imaginings. He was playing an impassioned solo in Bloodflowers, it felt like he was desperately trying to inject some fire and passion into a group (and album) that he maybe, somewhere, knew was a bit bloodless and plodding.

When I saw the 2007 tour I was about to become a parent for the first time, so the opportunity to temporarily commune with my teenage self was welcome. The band were excellent, with no keyboards and Porl Thompson back on board. There was a sense that Robert Smith knew his band had gotten a little bit lost and was trying to get some life back into proceedings, to force things outside the comfort zone of glacial keyboards and familiar arrangements. He sang clearly and beautifully and the band seemed like more of a living, breathing entity than either of the previous two tours I had seen. The setlists were fun and varied considerably between the two nights - Push, what a great live song! There was a judderingly intense version of Disintegration (what a fucking weird song! It seems to stand alone in their catalogue, unknowable and monolithic, sui generis), and Shake Dog Shake was a killer. Also enjoyed being as genuinely surprised by a setist inclusion as I've ever been with the performance of How Beautiful You Are from the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me LP, played for the first time in 20-odd years.

I'd still love to see The Cure at a venue other than the Entertainment Centre. Even at that rotten barn they're one of the very few bands that I'd probably always go and watch just for old times' sake. Robert Smith is a peculiar presence in modern music, he is now in the odd position of being both massively influential and deeply irrelevant, and my heart goes out to him as he tries to find a way to reconnect with the power of his earlier art. Many foolishly intense hours spent listening to his music are a significant part of my life experience, associated with happy memories of teenage infatuation and friendship - on one level I can look at their catalogue as daft and indulgent but it represents a fondly-regarded time and one that is great to revisit every couple of years.

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