Teased hair, grown-up Goths in black clothes everywhere. The Cure’s epic performance of its first three albums — Three Imaginary Boys, Seventeen Seconds and Faith — Tuesday night at Australia’s Sydney Opera House as part of the Vivid Festival brought out its most passionate fans. One couple paid $3000 apiece for front-row seats. It was the best kind of (Addams) family reunion, 2000-people strong, a triumphant, three-and-a-half-hour set that was tight, efficient and high on nostalgia without lingering on what once was.
The Cure’s legacy has never been in question; their influence over bands like Interpol, My Chemical Romance, and the Rapture is clear. And they’ve never really stopped touring — they’ve played live shows with astonishing consistency nearly every year since they started. As a stage presence, Smith remains inimitably unknowable, all serious brooding under that mop of jet-black cotton-candy hair.
Tuesday night he engaged in minimal banter, not even bothering to introduce the band members past and present who materialised for this special gig. Given the fervor that greeted them, he probably didn’t need to.
Beyond Smith’s timelessly pained voice and focused guitar prowess, there were tight contributions from ageless bassist Simon Gallup and drummer Jason Cooper, and an assist from beloved returnees Roger O’Donnell (a sepulchral presence on keys) and Lol Tolhurst, back for his first performance with the band in 22 years. The latter two elicited a gleeful roar, shouts of “Roger!” and “Lol!” reverberating through the room.
Three Imaginary Boys was the trickiest proposition because the band rarely plays those songs live. This showed, but only slightly — and the audience didn’t seem to care, singing and bopping along like a Molly Ringwald character drunk on Boone’s by the time “Grinding Halt” began. If Smith seemed hesitant and rushed, it was probably a product of his distance from the songs. (After “Object”: “I don’t really like that one…”; before “So What”: “Let’s see if I remember this…”)
The pace picked up as the band tore through Seventeen Seconds, their strange and timeless alchemy evident in rarely performed songs such as “Three,” a surprising full-throated version of “Secrets” and all-time crowd favorite “A Forest,” which prompted more than a few in-house fist pumps as Smith wailed “Again! And again! And again!”
As for Faith? Well, it was Faith, the blackest sheep of the trio and the show’s communal peak. As “Other Voices”‘ tribal bumps and Smith’s yowl kicked in, the music’s foreboding, sinister edge was tempered by an audience swaying in rapture and reverence. Even Smith seemed caught up in the glory, proffering that rare thing — something of a grin — as he finally moved upstage and played to the crowd during a rousing version of “All Cats Are Grey.”
But it was during the show’s three encores — 14 songs in total — that the party truly achieved liftoff, an assault of strobe lights sealing the deal.
In what can only be described as an amazing fan fever dream, the band circled back and embarked on a chronological tour of all their B-sides and non-album singles up to 1983, including a back-to-back mix of “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and “Another Journey by Train,” “Killing An Arab” (now defanged and retitled “Killing Another” for these touchy times), and an unexpected trio of favorites from Japanese Whispers (“Let’s Go to Bed,” “The Walk,” and “The Lovecats”) that ended the evening on the highest note possible.
If the Cure aren’t quite beyond review, this astonishing show proved they’re at least beyond reproach.