The Cure at The Royal Albert Hall – live review

The Cure ”“ Reflections
The Royal Albert Hall
15th November 2011

Perfectly crafted pop moments…

When tickets for this gig went on sale they sold out in four minutes and with stories of websites asking, and getting, up to £350 for a ticket this was clearly a show which every self respecting Cure fan HAD to be at. The reason was pretty obvious, when and where else were you going to see The Cure play their first three albums in their entirety and whilst the band did play this show in Sydney for two nights in the summer, and have a further six dates scheduled for Los Angeles and New York later this month, this was the only date in Europe and likely to stay that way.

The Cure have always been a law unto themselves, never following the rules or pandering to fashion and never particularly concerned about what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Such an attitude, and the glorious back catalogue which they possess, has meant they’ve developed and nurtured a strong fan base across the world. Equally, few bands have been able to reach out to such a diverse audience, and while the hardcore fans have remained loyal, and are in full supply tonight, there can’t be many casual pop listeners who haven’t come across at least one of the Cure’s perfectly crafted pop moments over the years.

They start tonight with their first album, ”˜Three Imaginary Boys’, a record which, even in the enormously fertile alternative scene of 1979, stood out for it’s almost K Tel style compilation of unusual songs and styles. So much so that they mix up the track listing and are able to drop in gems like the rarely played ”˜So What’ and ”˜Meathook’ with abandon. Stripped down to a three piece (Robert Smith with Simon Gallup on bass and Jason Cooper on drums) the songs’ sparseness shine brightly in the grandeur of the venue. “I never thought we’d be playing this song in the Albert Hall” smiles a relaxed and surprisingly chatty Smith (for him anyway) as they launch into a cover of Hendrix’s ”˜Foxy Lady” and it’s a real pleasure to see them revisit their often neglected debut.

There can’t be many bands who have undertaken such a dramatic change of style between first and second albums as the Cure did, within the space of a year, and 1980’s ”˜Seventeen Seconds’ was evidence of that, Gallup joining on bass and keyboards being added to the sound. Roger O’ Donnell joins them on keyboards at the Albert Hall and adds textures to an album which always felt like an extended twelve inch, creating a theme and expanding and distorting it to great effect. ”˜A Forest’ still sounds magical after all this time and remains the pivot of the album but songs like the deeply introspective ”˜Secrets’ and ”˜M’ are stark reminders of what a brave and bold move it was.

With short intervals between sets the breaks between the albums are differentiated nicely and when they return for 1981’s masterpiece, ”˜Faith’, it’s with original drummer Lol Tolhurst on keyboards and additional percussion, and he contributes strongly. ”˜Faith’ came a year after Joy Division’s demise and for many took over the mantle of where Joy Division left off but it was an album which was much more than that. Its eight songs were laced with a desperate melancholy feel in places, with themes like religion, death, the loss of childhood and references to literary characters (”˜The Drowning Man’ sent many serious young men to bookshops to discover Mervyn Peake novels!’) but it was an album which transcended that sadness. Like a breeze drifting through an open window on a summer’s day, ”˜Faith’ for many remains the Cure’s finest (holy) hour. A moment when the band stood out as a bastion of independence and single mindedness against the backdrop of the bleak landscapes of a country which was turning itself inside out. It wasn’t only protest music that reflected the times in 1981.

I’m slightly biased because seeing the Cure on the ”˜Faith’ tour in 1981 was my first ever gig and one the memory of stays with me to this day.

At the Albert Hall they revisit the album with respect and tenderness, giving the quiet moments the air and space they need to breathe, and firing the short bursts of tightly controlled rage with a passion which they retain (”˜Doubt’ is a special thrill considering they’ve never played it live until now). The closing emotional rollercoaster that is the title track is a fitting climax to one of the great albums and performances of it.

But being the Cure of course that isn’t it. They come back for a further hour, playing all of the a and b sides from their early singles up to and including ”˜Charlotte Sometimes’. So there’s that classic opening trio of singles, ”˜Killing an Arab’, ”˜Boys Don’t Cry’ and ”˜Jumping Someone Else’s Train’, mixed with the likes of the rarely heard ”˜I’m Cold’ and ”˜Splintered In Her Head’. For the old fans it’s like Christmas come early, as is spotting Tim Burton in the audience. And still they aren’t finished. There’s a power packed ”˜Hanging Garden’ before Smith drags the Cure into their pop Technicolor arena with a closing salvo of ”˜Let’s Go To Bed’, The Walk’ and ”˜The Love Cats’, turning the atmosphere on its head and making the Albert Hall the best (indie) disco in town. No one else can do that.

Three hours after they came on they’re gone with Smith remarking that “We’ll see you for the next three” suggesting that the band who virtually kick started playing classic albums with the ”˜Trilogy’ shows in Berlin in 2002 will be back again with three more (”˜Head on the Door’, ”˜Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and ”˜Wish’ is my guess for what it’s worth).

I’ve seen some tremendous gigs this year from bands who formed in the late seventies (Killing Joke, Specials, Damned, Magazine, Echo and the Bunnymen) but this was the best of them all. The Cure remain a unique band who have travelled a path which has refused to be shaken off course and continue to leave behind a shining collection of treasures to saviour.

Long may that journey continue.

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7 comments on “The Cure at The Royal Albert Hall – live review”

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  1. Thankyou for your brilliant and accurate review of last night — refreshing to read after The Telegraph and The Guardian’s joke reviews.

  2. You left out The Top, possibly the weirdest of all Cure albums!

    The Top
    Head On The Door
    KM, KM, KM

  3. Oh that you’re the real Roger and that is going to happen! My two favourite Cure albums (The Top and Kiss Me), in one gig might just beat Tuesday, which was truly fantastic.

  4. How on earth does my commenting on the correct chronological order turn into a concert?

  5. I wasn’t there, but I was watching the tracks come in as the songs were played on CoF – did they really mix up the tracks on TIB or is the author thinking of the US version – Boy’s Don’t Cry – which was a different release?
    As far as I’m aware, So What and Meathook were played in the right order with the rest of the tracks.
    Roger, can you comment on this?

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