The seminal goth band promised a marathon set and fan-favourite song selections. In a muddy and disappointingly abrupt show, The Cure delivered neither, writes Joe Casson
29th November at Manchester Arena
The Cure’s shows are big. They’re big because they play in the UK so rarely these days: this is their first proper show outside of London since 2004. They’re big because they’ve become known for marathon shows that often last over three hours, weaving from big hits to deep-cut album tracks to long-neglected B-Sides. And they’re big because The Cure are all about big emotions: their songs are either giddy and glistening or oceanically bleak, with few falling in between.
It is this reputation that The Cure have found themselves packaged with that makes this show so disappointing. After the strong opener, the bristling, psychedelic ‘Shake Dog Shake’, the band devote most of the main set to eclectic pop songs from the mid-1980s. With a few exceptions — the perfect pop of ‘Just Like Heaven’ and the chilling ‘Sinking’ — these songs are neither their best-loved hits or fan-oriented deep cuts. Instead, they tread a faintly unsatisfying middle ground.
Part of The Cure’s charm is their disposition for wild mood swings, hurtling from glee to despair at the drop of a hat, yet we see few hints of the music that earned the band’s reputation for pioneering the gothic rock genre until the penultimate song, ‘One Hundred Years’ from 1982’s pitch-black Pornography.
The poor sound doesn’t help matters. The Cure are experienced arena performers — this incarnation of the rotating-line-up has toured extensively in recent years — but they are undermined by muddy mixing, which smothers many of the songs. The expert guitar work of Reeves Gabrels, who cut his teeth working with David Bowie, is almost impossible to pick out of the mix.
Additionally, Robert Smith’s vocals are clearly under strain tonight. Despite usually attracting praise for retaining his vocal capabilities after a forty-year career, tonight Smith struggles to raise his voice above a weary cry. That would work well enough for many of The Cure’s more atmospheric cuts, but they’re in short supply tonight, leaving him vocally unprepared for ‘Primary’s punk yelp or the vocal acrobatics of ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’
After a faintly unsatisfactory main set, my hopes became pinned on the encores — this is where The Cure usually excel, with numerous encores delving deep into their back catalogue and lasting longer than most bands’ entire set. But something feels wrong from the outset: they leave the stage after a single song — a gloriously dense and disorienting performance of ‘A Forest’ — and it’s the same story for the next encore. The final encore picks things up a little, playing some of their biggest hits, but by the time Smith apologetically claims “we’ll be back” as he leaves, it is all rather deflating.
It feels strange to complain about a two-hour show and three encores, but The Cure consistently promise more than this and at Manchester Arena they failed to deliver. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt: considering the content of their other shows, it seems unlikely The Cure would purposefully rip off a fanbase they’ve cultivated over forty years, and coming to the end of the band’s longest tour for decades it is understandable that Smith would need rest. But that doesn’t change the fact that this was a disappointing show: for a band known for marathon shows and fan-pleasing song selections, this offered neither.