The Cure played Philly for the first time since 2008, dazzling the Wells Fargo crowd
The Cure are equal masters of Gothic gloom and giddy joy, with little interest in anything in between (their 1985 hit “In Between Days” falls into the latter category). At the Wells Fargo Saturday night, both extremes received ample attention from the band and rapturous reception from the capacity, multigenerational crowd.
When the tickets went on sale last spring, the Cure’s leader, Robert Smith, fought Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing model and tried to keep ticket prices low, and after shows quickly sold out, he won a battle to get the corporation to reimburse some of the hidden fees to customers. The band kept merchandise prices reasonable, too, with T-shirts selling for $25 instead of the usual $50 or more.
With the gift of a career-spanning 29-song, two-hour-and-45-minute set, the band’s first Philly show since 2008 was about generosity, even while Smith sang about alienation, deep sadness, and dark dreams.
The irony of writing popular songs about alienation is not lost on Smith, and he seems tickled to now be in the role of elder statesman from the Goth world he helped to invent in the early ‘80s and from the New Wave era of MTV hits from later in that decade and into the ‘90s. The show began and ended with Smith walking the stage perimeter, waving and smiling to the crowd. (It’s always a surprise to see Smith smile.)
Now 64, Smith still sports black eyeliner, smeared red lipstick, and a scraggly shock of bedhead. Saturday night, he wore a baggy black jacket over a black David Bowie T-shirt, with “Bowie” in sequins. His voice was strong, clear, and strained as it ever was.
“You make me feel like I am young again,” he sang in “Lovesong,” and he might have been addressing the crowd.
The show opened with “Alone,” one of five strong songs from the Cure’s long-promised next album Songs of the Lost World. Smith has compared the album to 1989′s Disintegration, which also featured prominently in the setlist. Songs such as the new “Endsong” and the old “Plainsong” begin with slow, hypnotic instrumental intros awash with three guitars (from Smith, Reeves Gabrels and Perry Bamonte) and build to majestic climaxes. The new “A Fragile Thing” matched the loud Goth intensity of the deep cut “Burn” (which Smith wrote for the 1994 soundtrack to The Crow).
While Smith’s rhythm-as-lead-guitar work guides the songs, Simon Gallup’s bass anchors the melodies. Gallup, who joined the band shortly after their first album, is much a part of the Cure’s sound as Smith. With his dyed black hair, torn jeans, sleeveless T-shirt and low-slung bass, he stalked the stage looking much younger than his 63 years. He and Smith worked face-to-face building the long, stately intro to “Pictures of You,” before drummer Jason Cooper signaled the shift to the melody with a shimmery bit of chimes. The moment was beautiful.
The set had three movements: The main set moved from the nervous, pulsing post-punk tracks like “A Forest” and “Play for Today” (both from 1980′s Seventeen Seconds) to the propulsive, echoey “Push” (one of six tracks from 1985′s The Head on the Door). The first encore got darker, including Disintegration’s title track and the rarity “It Can Never Be The Same” (an outtake from 2008′s 4:13 Dream).
And then came the joyful hits for the last encore. Smith can write deeply felt love songs, and slightly goofy pop songs, and quirky, catchy novelties. Longtime keyboardist Roger O’Donnell played simple hooks — unlike his usual deep washes of synthesizers — for Motown-inflected “Why Can’t I Be You?” and the bouncy “Close to Me.” Smith did a little shuffling dance during “Six Different Ways” and seemed genuinely happy to be singing “Friday I’m In Love” and “Just Like Heaven” yet again (as did the crowd, who joined in). The show ended joyfully with one of their earliest and poppiest songs, “Boys Don’t Cry.”
The Cure chose Scotland’s simpatico the Twilight Sad to open with a strong 40-minute set of shoegazing tracks reaching back as far as 2007′s Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters. Vocalist James Graham sounds a bit like Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan with a heavy Scottish accent — powerful, commanding — and guitarist Andy MacFarlane drapes everything in delicious reverb. It’s no slight that the highlight was a cathartic cover of the Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm” — the song’s a classic, and Frightened Rabbit’s Grant Hutchison recently became the band’s drummer.