June 2, 2023

Shadows and Light: The Cure at Moda Center

The Cure
Moda Center
May 31, 2023

The Cure’s music, elemental and potent, holds a certain magnetism. It was the final day of May, the outside air balmy and pleasant, yet the faithful spirited themselves indoors. There was darkness to reckon with.

The shimmering, fractured beauty of the Cure was on florid display throughout their 29-song presentation. Powerful yet delicate, drifting between eccentric and accessible, the setlist was culled from albums going back as far as 1980 (no selections from the band’s debut Three Imaginary Boys made the cut this night). Robert Smith, a most gracious host for nearly three hours, exhibited a vocal and physical durability that was astonishing; at age 64, he might even be called goth rock’s Springsteen.

Early on between songs, Smith was self-deprecating, speaking about the compressed nature of time and betraying a self-consciousness that, somehow, he’d worn out his welcome in this city. The truth of the matter is, the Cure hadn’t touched down in the region since 2016, and they hadn’t set foot in this specific arena since 1997. Humility of this ilk can be a motivator, and it might be part of what’s fueling Smith as he reliably carries the Cure legacy forward. His colleagues (bassist Simon Gallup, keyboardist Roger O’Donnell, keyboardist/guitarist Perry Bamonte, drummer Jason Cooper, guitarist Reeves Gabrels), who conjured a gathering storm of atmosphere and sound, seem to be on the same page.

These guys mean business, but there’s a distinct benevolence in the Cure machinery. Professionalism, immaculate live sound, and giving the customer their money’s worth are all apparent Cure standards. Even the t-shirts in the lobby largely sold for $25, a striking departure from the $40-50 per shirt most artists charge. Fan-friendly? You better believe it. The industry needs much more of this. 

For all the respect and deference Smith gives to his supporters, recent history suggests that on the business side, he’s more than willing to dole out the “and find out” part of the equation when an entity like Ticketmaster offers their “f*ck around” nonsense. This past March, Smith went toe-to-toe with the ticketing behemoth, and negotiated lower prices and fee refunds for his ticket buyers at a time when few (if any) of his peers were willing to take up such a fight. In this case, good guys wear black.

But on with the show. This night with the Cure was christened with the sounds of thunder booming from the speakers, foreshadowing the tempest the audience was about to be swept up in. Far from a nostalgia trip and devoid of cynicism, Smith and his crew knocked down a lofty stack of songs. Overall, it was less fan service than an exercise in pure artistic integrity, a total “come with us, you won’t regret it” invitation. Sometimes, you have to just give yourself to the storm.

Bookending the main set were the striking new works “Alone” and “Endsong.” In between, and later in the encores, this West Sussex, England act led a mesmeric journey through 44 years of their recorded history. Fans experienced a full spectrum of emotions alongside their high-haired talisman: They reflected on lost love during “Pictures of You”; imagined a bed of flowers during “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep,” and were time-warped back to 1994 and memories of Brandon Lee during “Burn.” They also felt defiance and disorientation, respectively, in the rhythmic Seventeen Seconds tandem of “Play for Today” (key lyric: “Tell me I’m wrong/I don’t really care”) and “A Forest” (“The girl was never there/It’s always the same”). Elsewhere, “Shake Dog Shake” found Smith adding extra hot sauce, with some bonus “Sh- Sh- Sh- Sh-” vocal punctuation. He was having the time of his life.

A pair of encores were more like additional mini-sets, with “I Can Never Say Goodbye” a heart-rending standout in the first of these two smaller frames. About Smith’s late sibling Richard, “Goodbye” features the devastating lines “Something wicked this way comes/To steal away my brother’s life.” Three songs later, the chiming “Plainsong” offered some solace and counterpoint, as its keyboards surged with a wounded majesty.

The human condition requires us all to face darkness, but life is about balance and realizing that there is also levity and light. In the second encore, after Smith warbled on “Lullaby” that “the spiderman is having me for dinner tonight,” the vibe shifted to something resembling joy and even whimsy. The frontman played a miniature keytar on “Six Different Ways,” offered up the smash hit “Friday I’m in Love” (“It’s a wonderful surprise/To see your shoes and your spirit rise”), and roamed the stage during the percolating gem “Close to Me.” The twirling, upbeat “In Between Days” was another serotonin boost, and the evening drew to a close with “Just Like Heaven” and “Boys Don’t Cry.”

Fealty to the Cure and similar acts is akin to cave-dwelling; some really like it down there. But before one slips too deep into darkness, along comes Robert Smith, holding a torch and summoning them back from the ledge. He may be a purveyor of gloom, but, to quote some other Smiths, his band’s music is proof that there is a light that never goes out.