The Cure & Others: Meltdown Festival and Hyde Park – live review
The Cure|Deftones|Nine Inch Nails|My Bloody Valentine|Psychedelic Furs|The Church|Placebo|Kaelan Mikla
Meltdown Festival and BST Hyde Park, London
22-24 Jun and 7 Jul 2018
Louder Than War’s Naomi Dryden-Smith and Paul Grace dust off their crimpers, crack open the eyeliner, and head to London’s Southbank and Hyde Park to explore the goth-tastic treats that Robert Smith has scheduled for his Meltdown Festival and the British Summer Time festival. Billed by many as “The Ultimate Meltdown”, did The Cure front-man’s selection live up to the hype?
Deftones – Paul
As an all-seated venue with theatre style balconies, the Royal Festival Hall is perhaps a non-conventional setting for a Deftones show, but from the second the Sacramento five-piece hit the stage, the atmosphere is electric. Combining dub-inspired rhythms, muscular riffs, electronica and a bitter/sweet vocal, Deftones triumph with a mighty two hour journey of classics and rarities.
The band are in full celebratory mood for not only is it the 18th anniversary since the release of their acclaimed experimental album, White Pony, but it’s also front-man Chino Moreno’s birthday.
The sound in the Royal Festival Hall is predictably pristine, and new depth is given to White Pony classics, Feiticeira and Digital Bath. The entire room explodes in a furious moshing frenzy (royal boxes included!), as a super heavy My Own Summer (Shove It) meanders and shakes; a veritable sight to behold. Surrounded by massive futuristic video screens displaying Bladerunner-style imagery, Deftones pay a respectful nod to the Meltdown curator with an atmospheric cover of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, which they first played when The Cure were presented with the prestigious MTV Icon Award, back in 2004. With its first live airing in a decade, Battle-Axe is a dramatic vision of doom, featuring colossal detuned riffs and trademark despairing vocal. The precision with which the band plays is astonishing, with every chord, beat and word synchronised to create a dynamic assault of cascading noise.
At the end of the show Moreno looks like the cart that got the cream, and judging by the deafening screams by which the band leave the stage, the fans were pretty blown away too.
Nine Inch Nails – Paul
“We’re all pretty jet-lagged!”; announces Trent Reznor halfway through their Meltdown set. You would never have known however as Nine Inch Nails power effortlessly through a frenzy of older tracks and newer material, all performed with consistent and familiar brute force.
Much of tonight’s sonic attack is lifted from 1999’s The Fragile. Somewhat Damaged is a soaring wave of anger leading logically into The Day World World Went Away, climaxing with its own sweeping apocalyptic crescendo.
We only get a couple of tracks from new record Bad Witch which, coincidentally, dropped just this afternoon. God Break Down the Door and Ahead of Ourselves, both featuring contorted vox plus frantic breakbeats, delivered with an almighty punch that suggests a more experimental, darker direction for the band. Shrouded in a mist of dry ice and strobes, at 53, Reznor has never looked in better shape. He oozes so much testosterone, in fact, that he could almost impregnate a fan from 50 feet (but that’s just my wishful thinking!).
There are a couple of covers on offer too; a sedate version of Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” reflects Reznor’s dismay at selfie-obsessed U.S. society, while the encore opens with a beefed up cover of Gary Numan’s Metal. The drama peaks as the show draws to a close with an emotional rendition of Hurt.
Hands down the highlight of the three Meltdown shows that I was lucky to attend, Nine Inch Nails are clearly still very much at the top of their game.
My Bloody Valentine – Paul
Following a five-year hiatus, the buzz surrounding My Bloody Valentine’s Meltdown appearance has been off the scale.
The band that pretty much invented the shoe-gaze genre, their gigs are infamously loud (the staff at the Royal Festival Hall are freely handing out earplugs ahead of tonight’s gig).
On a surprisingly light and colourful stage boasting projections of rainbow flags and twinkly stars, My Bloody Valentine do not disappoint. Surreal but sophisticated, the intense two hour wall of noise is a truly magical experience. At times so otherworldly in fact that we feel like we’ve been sucked into a David Lynch film with Belinda Butcher’s emotionless dead-pan gaze akin to a guitar strumming corpse (my partner genuinely asks at one point if it’s all a joke). Like sunbeams piercing a stormy sky, the creative juxtapose of Butcher’s wispy vocal straddling multiple layers of distortion is both striking and unique.
We’re even treated to a brand new tune which indicates a far heavier direction for the new EP’s promised later this year. Yay!
Highlight of the night goes to Soon (but of course it does!), after which the band close the show with the infamous extended white-noise middle eight madness of You Made Me Realise (see video clip below – it went on like this for 10 more minutes). It’s at this point that I’m particularly grateful for my earplugs.
With expectation riding so high, My Bloody Valentine can breathe a huge sigh of relief; that’s Meltdown well and truly conquered!
The Church and The Psychedelic Furs – Naomi
Meltdown gets off to a strong start with a short but impressive set from Aussie indie legends The Church, fronted by the mesmerising and intense Steve Kilbey, who proves he still has it with arena-style cavorting and (slightly scary) glaring. New songs are mixed with old, and their still-glorious Under The Milky Way is pushed gently aside by the equally goosebump-inducing, Who/Bowie-like Miami, which brings the set to a too-soon end. They’re on tour in the UK in the Autumn, looking forward to that.
Equally impressive are Psychedelic Furs, surely at the top of their game at the moment. From opening bars of Dumb Waiters through to the closing notes of Pretty In Pink, brothers Richard and Tim Butler hold the audience in thrall, whipping them into a frenzy whilst moving energetically around the stage, more than ably supported by possibly their best line-up ever – enigmatically cool Rich Good, legendary Amanda Kramer, dynamic Mars Williams and indispensable Paul Garisto. By the end of the set there’s a very narrow but frantic mosh in front of the stage, and people are clambering over the seats to get to safety. Brilliant start to what promises to be an amazing week.
Kaelan Mikla and Placebo – Naomi
Placebo’s support are a trio of lace-bedecked goth-girls from Iceland, and as soon as their dark wave throbbing synths kick in it’s clear why Robert Smith would like this band – Kalt in particular bears more than a passing resemblance to Cold. As industrial as Gary Numan, as howly as Bjork at her howliest, they are intriguing. An entire album of howling might be challenging, but there is talent here and it will be interesting to see how they develop their style.
Placebo arrive on stage to excited screams at the first few notes of Pure Morning. Everyone’s on their feet already, and will remain so for the duration – it’s a phenomenal opening. What follows is a set very much for fans – Nancy Boy and Every Me Every You don’t feature, but Without You I’m Nothing pleases everyone – plus we are treated to a convincing tribute of Let’s Go To Bed in the first encore. After more than 20 years together, Molko and Olsdal have matured but remain as in sync as ever, frequently exchanging glances and smiles. They are clearly much adored, the audience is in raptures, contrasting with the fairly stationary and emotionless band. The set feels slightly back to front – peaking early with Pure Morning and ending with the more sedate Running Up That Hill, but the fans leave smiling.
The Cure – Naomi
It might have gone unnoticed by some, but the past few months have been fairly exhausting for Cure fans. First the obscure tweets from ex-member Lol Tolhurst and videographer Tim Pope alluding to forthcoming “projects” – but saying no more. Given 2018 marks 40 years of the Cure, these messages caused inevitable ripples amongst the Cure-fan community. Soon after came announcements of the release of Torn Down for Record Store Day, plus a one-off anniversary concert in Hyde Park, billed as “the only European show of 2018”. After a couple of years of near radio silence, announcements like this bring a mixture of elation and anxiety – a promise of (almost) new material at long last AND a chance to hear them live again – but oh god the stress of queueing, whether outside record shops or online for tickets, the sheer fear of not getting the prize.
For some of us, Cure-stress replaces elation pretty quickly… Somewhere in the dazed fug, we register that Tim Pope is making a special anniversary film about them. Okay, so that’s a record, a concert AND a film now. Sleep is sacrificed, queues are conquered, records and tickets bought. And THEN, the news that Robert Smith will curate the Meltdown Festival at Southbank. Holy shit, how good is THIS going to be. As the bands are announced, the excitement builds – Placebo, Psychedelic Furs, Deftones, Libertines, Manic Street Preachers, Suzanne Vega, so many more fantastic bands – plus Nine Inch Nails and My Bloody Valentine, neither of whom have played in years. As time goes on, the schedule fills and a glaring gap remains on the last day – the penny starts to slowly drop, even though we know that Hyde Park is “the only European show of 2018”. In a Radio 6 interview Robert Smith admits that he finds himself in a bit of a pickle, and confirms he will be playing along with “four curious friends”… This is the big one – an intimate show, almost definitely The Cure, for just under 3000 people. I would love to say the ticket purchasing was seamless and dignified – it certainly would be for those treated nicely by the website and not thrown out from the front of the queue twice. I’m not bitter about sitting at the back. Honest.
Curaetion – Naomi
One of the most satisfying things about Meltdown has been seeing one of London’s pre-eminent classical music venues completely overrun by goths – sad to see that end (although saying that, many of them rush-purchased membership so presumably they’ll be flashing their yellow cards a while longer..) The support is The Twilight Sad, hugely championed by Robert Smith for the past few years. Theirs is an emotional and intense set, dedicated in its entirety to the late Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit who had been set to play the festival, a lovely gesture. The lights go down again, the stage fills with smoke and the current Cure lineup (Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Reeves Gabrels, Roger O’Donnell and Jason Cooper) launches straight into Three Imaginary Boys. The next two or so hours are a blissful journey “From there to here and back again”, selecting one song from each album going forward in time from 1978 through to their two recent unreleased singles, and then retreating again back to Boys Don’t Cry. Despite the lack of special guests (cue dashed hopes of reunions with Lol Tolhurst and cameos by Siouxsie) and unheard song versions promised in the billing, this is a fan-pleaser of a gig, peppering staples like Pictures Of You, From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea, Shake Dog Shake, Primary and a Forest with other less obvious choices such as the whimsical “is this how a star falls?” of Jupiter Crash, angry and petulant alt.end, bleak A Strange Day, urgent and demanding “give me all this and give me it soon” of Want, and druggy and irresistibly catchy Bananafishbones (my first favourite Cure track – still no idea what it’s actually about). There will be inevitable complaints about what was promised and not delivered, but there has to be compensation in hearing A Night Light This, or A Forest followed by Boy’s Don’t Cry in the perfect acoustics of the Royal Festival Hall. What a privilege.
BST at Hyde Park – Naomi
In contrast to Curaetion, Hyde Park is a festival gig played to 65,000 people. Warmed up by the likes of Editors, Goldfrapp, Interpol and Ride, this vast audience is treated to a hit parade of The Cure’s best-known songs (with the notable exclusion of Lovecats). You can’t really argue with dancing bathed in a balmy pinky golden sunset to a selection of their very best (or most popular anyway) – even if the band are merely dots on the horizon for some. Sadly, like Curaetion, there’s a strict curfew after two and a bit hours – a pity as it would be a perfect night for one of their four-hour epics – and there’s a sense they’re racing through trying to cram in as much as possible before BST turn off the power. The meanies. As many Cure gigs, this one starts with the tinkling drama of Plainsong, and ends with the raucous Killing An Arab, following a path through their more accessible post-punk tinged irreverent pop. Noticeably missing are any tracks from Pornography or Bloodflowers, perhaps too intense for such an occasion. Otherwise, there’s a fair selection from the rest of the albums. (I was lucky enough to spend time with Robert Smith’s brother Richard a couple of years ago – a laid back hippy type with a kind heart and twinkly eyes. Older than Robert, he told me about babysitting his younger siblings and making them laugh by climbing up on a step and appearing above the door. He was the head on the door… He sadly passed away late last year, and we make sure to toast him during Close To Me.) The set ends in jubilant style with five of the best from their first album, Three Imaginary Boys, finishing with Killing An Arab, their first ever single – back to where it all started.
Two very different Cure gigs, equally compelling, sadly all over, and I would gladly do either of them all over again. The only consolation is Robert Smith’s promise (twice – we all heard it) of new material and/or live performances in 2019. Can’t wait to get stressed…
All words and photos by Paul Grace and Naomi Dryden-Smith. You can find more of their stuff here:
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