Even Robert Smith himself was astonished that he didn’t evaporate immediately the second he stepped onto the surprisingly hot stage at London’s Hyde Park Saturday evening. It was about a quarter past 8 and the sun was still bearing down in full force – about 83 degrees Fahrenheit – and beaming right at the Cure frontman. “I honestly can’t talk until the sun goes down,” said the singer, who was covered entirely in black, save for his head and hands. “It’s taking all my energy not to dissolve into a pile of dust.” And he wasn’t kidding.
Until about 9:30, when the sky behind the 65,000 or so equally black-clad concertgoers finally turned pink and his sworn astronomical enemy dipped behind the horizon, Smith was relatively reserved. He sang passionately, played his guitar and wiggled his arms like loose strands of squid-ink linguini. But when the sun went down, and he put his guitar down for “Close to Me,” he was a goth set free – dancing, swooning, swirling and blushing, as though he were reborn. “Finally, the sun goes down,” he proclaimed after “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep.” It was a two-hour (and 29-song) transformation, and despite the challenge he was facing internally, he kept spirits high. After all, it was a celebration.
Smith, whose lyrics smack of wistfulness, chose tonight’s show to recognize the group’s 40th anniversary. The electric guitar Smith played for most of the show bore the dates “1978 – 2018,” and he acknowledged the milestone before playing the night’s last few songs. “Forty years ago this weekend was the first time we played as the Cure,” he said. “And if you’d asked me then what I’d be doing in 40 years, I would be wrong. But it’s thanks to everyone around me that we’re still here, and to you all as well, so thank you very much.”
Although the group’s “Curætion 25” setlist from the Meltdown Festival a couple of weeks ago was a better snapshot of the group’s history, since they played songs from every album they put out, tonight’s was one for the fans. (This was probably also because the gig was the Cure’s last scheduled European gig this year.) The band focused the set list heavily on its watershed 1989 album, Disintegration, and Smith and company indulged both deep cuts and big hits throughout.
The song selection provided mixed results. Less than halfway into the night, the band had already won over the crowd with two of their biggest songs – “Lovesong” and “Just Like Heaven” – but they spaced them out with deep cuts and Eighties gems. Since tunes like “The Walk” and “The Caterpillar” were radio hits in the U.K., some of the older fans sang along to the melodies while the younger fans nodded along. But when songs like “Fascination Street” or “Never Enough” – tracks that charted well around the world – you could hear the many thousands in the throngs join in. And when the moon came out, and the Cure turned to some of their biggest songs in the encore – “Friday, I’m in Love,” “Why Can’t I Be You?” “Boys Don’t Cry” – the jubilation stretched all the way to the back of the British Summer Time festival ground, where Interpol, Goldfrapp and Slowdive, among others, had performed earlier in the day.
In some ways, the concert felt minimalistic – especially compared to Roger Waters’ blockbuster the night before. The visuals were mostly shots of the band – sometimes with a fisheye lens, sometimes with a purple-and-green woods shot superimposed over them (“A Forest”) and sometimes with a spiderweb (“Lullaby,” whose lyrics warn of a spiderman having Smith for dinner). The only stage effects, much like early Cure shows, were clouds of smoke that enfolded the band throughout the night. And other than some pacing, the band members other than Smith were relatively low-key.
But there was still a unique power in the Cure’s live performance. Even with so many people watching them, Smith’s bashfulness and earnestness creates an intimacy that’s rare for shows of this size. But because the band has a dedicated fanbase of hardcore fans eager to hear deep cuts like their The Crow soundtrack contribution “Burn” as much as “High,” it’s easy to get swept up in the moment. That was most obvious in the way the audience reacted to the night’s final two songs, which both made up the Cure’s first single: “10:15 Saturday Night” and “Killing an Arab.” Smith smiled from ear to ear when he was playing the guitar solo to the former, and the springiness of the controversial latter song inspired the audience to jump up and down and sing along (and it’s still a bit odd to hear people en masse singing that title so gleefully, even if Smith has always underscored that it was a reference to Camus). It was a moment Smith seemed to enjoy sharing with the crowd – everyone was in on it, and he’d finally come full circle.
When the concert was done, Smith thanked the crowd, teased a return to playing live in England “soon” and then exited stage left where he disappeared into the smoke only for the audience to see his spiky hair fade away. After all, the moon was finally out, and he had been rejuvenated.
The Cure set list:
“Pictures of You”
“A Night Like This”
“The End of the World”
“In Between Days”
“Just Like Heaven”
“If Only Tonight We Could Sleep”
“Play for Today”
“Shake Dog Shake”
“From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”
“Friday I’m in Love”
“Close to Me”
“Why Can’t I Be You?”
“Boys Don’t Cry”
“Jumping Someone Else’s Train”
“10:15 Saturday Night”
“Killing an Arab”