I go way back with The Cure, all the way to 1979 when I heard my first tracks from Three Imaginary Boys on my favorite Sunday night radio show, Rodney on the Roq. My first live experience with The Cure was a few years later in 1984 when they were touring to promote The Top. I skipped classes that day and drove down to Hollywood from college in Santa Barbara to meet a friend at the Hollywood Palladium. It was a general admission show and we were determined to be at the front so we spent the whole day waiting in line with several other black-clad, black-haired fans. My friend had brought a bouquet of black spray-painted roses to give to Robert that night, which we took turns holding onto throughout the warm southern California day.
“It doesn’t matter if we all die.”
I couldn’t tell you today what songs they played that night although thanks to the magic of the internet, I can look up the set list from that show. And what a set list it was! It was short compared to more recent shows, but still a great collection of songs. What I most clearly remember about the show was that we did make it to the front row, and people were pushing and crowding us so much that the security guards would put their strong hands on our shoulders every so often to push us back from the guard rail allowing us to literally catch our breath. I also remember at the end of the evening limping out to the parking lot and realizing we were covered in bruises from the sheer crush of the crowd – it was an incredible night!
I’ve seen The Cure a few other times since then, but my most distinct memories of the band are not live performances, even though they are phenomenal live. As an undergraduate, I was a liberal studies major where you could create your own course of study based on a trio of inter-related departments. One of my three subjects was French, and I took as many French existentialist literature courses as the department offered. Lucky for me, I had a very open-minded professor who allowed me creative license with my term papers which were more like personal diaries relating to various characters and themes in the books we read. I punctuated my entries with song lyrics – primarily of The Cure – and turned in my papers accompanied by soundtracks on cassette tapes. “Killing an Arab” has the most obvious existential reference to Albert Camus’ The Stranger, but I found the bulk of my source material in Pornography, which I would spend hours listening to late into the night when I probably should have been studying, or at least sleeping. A heavy, atmospheric album full of despair, to this day I would still say it’s my favorite but find it difficult to listen to.
My other greatest Cure memory is dancing at Club Iguana in Santa Barbara where one night a week – Thursdays, I think – they played all alternative, post-punk, and goth music. Every time I hear Head on the Door, The Cure’s 1985 release, I immediately am taken back to that dance floor.
I’ve been a fan in the years since those dancing days, but to be honest, after Disintegration was released in 1989 – an excellent album considered by many to be their best – The Cure mostly took a back seat on my music playlist. They were still producing new records which I was peripherally aware of it, but I was no longer keeping up with them. The last time I saw them was in 1996 at the 2,700-seat Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, and they put on a great show. It might have been the last tour where they played smaller venues because it seems as if every time I’ve been aware of them touring since then, it was at outdoor festivals and large arenas; having only seen them in smaller venues, I wasn’t motivated to make the effort. Sub-consciously, I must have decided they weren’t that relevant anymore, at least to me, but I’m not sure how or why I came to that conclusion. I still loved their music whenever I heard it, and Robert Smith has always been a heartthrob to me. There was a brief rekindling of the flame in 2004 with the release of Join the Dots: B-sides & Rarities, but after the initial excitement they returned to the back burner.
When The Cure began their North American tour in 2016, I heard reports of epic three-hour shows and that the band was performing at their peak. I got wrapped up in all the excitement flaunted daily on social media and started obsessively listening to them, including some of the later recordings I’d previously missed. I fell in love all over again. Despite my renewed enthusiasm, I decided not to see them when they came to the northwest because I wasn’t interested in committing to spending hundreds of dollars to attend the three-day Sasquatch Music Festival to see bands that I mostly wasn’t interested in. I was pouty and unsure of my decision; I kept asking myself, “What if this is their last tour and my last opportunity to see them, ever?” None of us are getting any younger and as I age along with my favorite bands, I worry about these things.
Queue in Craig to the rescue! Instead of spending a few hundred dollars on local festival tickets, we spent considerably more flying to Barcelona, but we were able to see The Cure on our terms. I’ll never forget the one and only time I went to Sasquatch: I was standing in line for the porta-potty before Bauhaus was set to come on stage, listening to a group of young guys in front of me trying to figure out who Bauhaus was because they’d never heard of them. That wasn’t the crowd I wanted to see The Cure with.
The show in Barcelona was brilliant! By this point the European tour was winding down, the band headed to England after this show to end their 2016 world tour. There had been reports throughout the European tour of Robert being sick and having trouble with his voice; and who wouldn’t after touring for nine months and playing three-hour long shows night after night? But the band never canceled a show, although they did cut a few short (which in terms of a typical Cure show means an average length concert). But they were in fine form by the time they arrived in Barcelona.
Arriving on an appropriately dark, cold, and foggy night at the Palau Sant Jordi, we sat amongst 17,000 Catalans at one of the best live shows I’ve seen. It was also one of the best crowds I’ve been a part of. The passionate Catalans knew every word to every song, and the venue was filled with a warm camaraderie I rarely experience at shows especially in frosty Seattle. The band played for close to three hours with a set list that spanned their catalogue. The show did include a number of their more popular songs, but that was alright because you would be hard-pressed to find a band that can put together a more catchy, danceable melody combined with such unique, quirky lyrics. There have been moments when I’ve wondered to myself, “When did my dark existentialists get so happy?” But those are detours amongst their mournful oeuvre. Robert Smith has said, “I’ve always spent more time with a smile on my face than not, but the thing is, I don’t write about it.” Most artists would agree; happiness doesn’t always make for the most powerful art, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t occasionally be indulged.
My only real disappointment during the show was that after “One Hundred Years” they didn’t go straight into “Give Me It” – which they did at several other shows, and incredibly intense judging by the videos I saw. But there was plenty to make up for that, starting with the fact that they did play “One Hundred Years,” which has the all-time best opening line in a song when Robert wails: “It doesn’t matter if we all die!” They also performed “The Blood” from The Head on the Door, a song with a flamenco-style sound that they only performed in Spain and Portugal. They played the haunting “Charlotte Sometimes,” a single which was never released on an album and is a favorite of every young, sad goth girl of the eighties. They played “The Love Cats,” a song that always brings a smile to my face and was written, according to Smith, as a joke in response to critics saying how gloomy The Cure were. In all, the band played an amazing thirty-two songs, including a handful from their earliest albums, which still remain my favorites. And did I mention Spiderman appeared in the audience during “Lullaby?”
The stage lighting was gorgeous and distinctive for each song, and as they time-travelled back and forth through the years – from 1979, through the nineties, up to the present with an unreleased song, “It Can Never Be the Same” – I was reminded over and over of how talented a writer and musician Robert Smith is. And while perhaps things can never be the same, the band sounded as good as ever proving that some things really don’t change. I was also reminded of this when at the end of the show, amidst all of the applause and shouts of love and devotion from 17,000 fans, Robert looked so humble and genuinely surprised at all the adoration he was receiving. It was really touching to see that emotion after all these years.
The show and my preparation for it rekindled my love for the band and I am sorry I strayed, even if just for a while. I look forward to seeing what they’ll do next. Will they release another record? Will they tour again? As they enter their later fifties and head into their sixties, it’s hard to say for sure, but I’m very glad Craig “forced” me to go see them in Barcelona. A note to him for the future: Please don’t hesitate to surprise me and buy tickets anywhere in the world for The Cure. My bags are packed and waiting.