Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 27, 2019)
Back when bands that started before my birth reached milestones, I didn’t mind these anniversaries. Now that artists who hit the stage well into my lifespan get to these occasions, though… I feel old!
Today’s gut punch: the 40th anniversary of Goth rockers the Cure. It feels like just yesterday that my hipster college friends glommed onto the Cure, but instead, that occurred many moons ago.
To commemorate the band’s 40th, the Cure performed two separate London-based shows in summer 2018, and we get these on the two Blu-rays of 40 Live Curaetion 25. On Disc One, we find a June 24 show at the Royal Festival Hall.
That one commemorates the 25th anniversary of the “Meltdown Festival”, an annual musical gala. A different artist curates the Festival each year, and in 2018, Cure leader Robert Smith got the gig – and picked himself to play.
The Meltdown show spans 28 songs across two hours, 24 minutes, 13 seconds.
For the second concert, we find the Cure on July 7 at the “British Summer Time” festival in Hyde Park. Whereas the Royal Festival Hall holds fewer than 3000, Hyde Park packs can pack in tens of thousands.
That means both offer very different concert settings. “Summer Time” features 29 tracks and runs 2:15:22.
Expect little repetition across the shows. A few songs appear at both – like “Pictures of You” and “Disintegration” – but most of the time, they avoid conflict.
Though some of the Cure’s “hits” appear in the Meltdown half, the Summer Time show clearly offers the more casual-fan friendly setlist. This makes sense, as a crowd of 50,000 demands a different approach than an audience of less than 3000.
I hate to admit it, but I prefer the “Summer Time” song roster. I like the Cure but never got into them in a major way, so I tend to dig their better-known songs and find little among the more obscure tracks that moves me.
Since this acts as my confessional, I also must say the Cure never did much for me as a live act. From 1998 through 2008, I saw them three times, all in different settings: theater, outdoor shed and arena.
All three concerts seemed… fine. I can’t claim that I disliked any of these shows, but I also can’t state that I particularly enjoyed the performances.
This holds true for the two concerts found in Curaetion, as nothing I saw or heard here convinced me that the Cure offer a great live band, though they do sound pretty good. Pushing 60 at the time of these shows, Smith’s voice holds up very well, and the band manages to play the songs with a more than competent approach.
Note that for all intents and purposes, Smith is the Cure. He’s the only band member we see here who’s been a constant for their entire 40-year run, and he’s always been the public face of the group.
Of the other musicians we see in these two shows, bassist Simon Gallup comes close to “constant” status. He joined not too long after the band’s 1978 formation, and except for a brief absence that started in 1982, he’s been there the whole time.
Keyboardist Roger O’Donnell hopped onto the band in 1987 and came/went a couple of times before his current stint that started in 2011. Drummer Jason Cooper joined in 1995 and has remained ever since, whereas guitarist Reeves Gabrels – best-known for his late 80s/1990s work with David Bowie – is the “new boy”, as he latched onto the Cure in 2012.
I admit that’s a more stable roster than I expected, as I thought the Cure was a near revolving door of musicians. Still, it’s not a stretch to view the Cure as Smith’s baby.
Whatever one thinks of Smith, “magnetic frontman” doesn’t leap to mind. A Cure show provides a fairly static affair in terms of the musicians themselves, as they don’t move around a lot, and Smith fails to say much to the audience.
The concerts compensate with other visual elements. Like Pink Floyd, the Cure attempt to make up for the musicians’ lack of charisma with a vivid light and video show.
This works better in person than on video. In a concert venue, the audience can take in the show as a whole, but on TV, we just get bits and pieces, with editorial and other visual choices to impact us.
Both of these shows approach the concerts in decidedly different ways. For “Meltdown”, director Nick Wickham goes the Super Artsy Route. He overlays the stage performance with all sorts of interfering components and creates a distorted image a lot of the time.
Every once in a while, Wickham offers a fairly natural depiction of the stage. However, from the visual gimmicks to the oft-rapid editing, it can become a chore to watch “Meltdown”.
Happily, director Tim Pope takes a much more sedate approach to “Summer Time”. Yeah, Pope likes his slow-panning camera a little too much, as it glides across the stage an awful lot. He also throws in a handful of minor visual gimmicks every once in a while, but these remain infrequent.
In addition, Pope keeps the editing natural, a choice that – gasp! – actually allows the viewer to follow the action on the stage. Camera choices also go for a more panoramic feel and don’t focus on the close-ups that dominate “Meltdown”.
“Summer Time” offers a near platonic ideal of how to present live concerts, really, as it manages to let us feel like we’ve actually seen the show. On the other hand, “Meltdown” comes with all the choices a concert film director shouldn’t make.
Musically, both seem very similar. The band sounds good at both, so other than the individual’s setlist preferences, there’s nothing to separate the two.
So if I wanted to listen to the Cure live, I’d be fine with either show. If I wanted to watch the Cure live, though, I’d go with “Summer Time”. “Meltdown” comes with too many headache-inducing visual choices.
Bonus trivia: back in 1989, Bowie formed a band called Tin Machine, and Gabrels entered as lead guitarist. One night, the four members acted as guest hosts on MTV, and they played a song that Bowie half-joked sounded like an outtake from his 1974 album Diamond Dogs: “Fascination Street” by the Cure.