By Jacqueline Howell
The Cure’s 40th Anniversary show in Hyde Park was full of twists befitting the most original of bands. July 7th, will become extra-historic in a way no one could have predicted years ago; when Robert Smith routinely set targets to break up the band that never happened; in the new age of the band that has finally let itself cheer for itself in all its formations and eras, with room to grow with new members; or even when the Hyde Park show was announced at the end of 2017. No one who is here will ever forget the month-long heatwave in the U.K. leading up to the World Cup, or that on this, the same day of the Cure’s 40th Anniversary show, England reached the world cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990.
The days leading up to the long-awaited BST day of music featuring The Twilight Sad, Ride, Slowdive, Editors, Interpol, Goldfrapp, Lisa Hannigan, This Will Destroy You, and more, have been fraught with World Cup tension and hyper-focus. To some, nothing else has seemed to matter anymore but cheering from home or in a pub, midday Saturday. The Cure’s show goes on, of course, the energies of the many fandoms somehow becoming harmonious amid England’s win, the football-style chants that no doubt would have always lent themselves to Cure lyrics becoming only louder and more practiced. Kids in glitter cross the city in celebration of Pride, and the convergence of all these celebratory groups make the stifling hot Tube an entertainment all its own. This buoyant mood crossed with oppressive heat makes shade-loving kittens of everyone, any lion posturing soon melted away, creating a type of throwback little-kid harmony, our pre-A/C toughness replacing the modern need for Wi-Fi, personal space, and mod cons. The air is hot, but electric.
In the still-beating sun at Hyde, more than ten minutes ahead of the 8:20 start time, the shimmering notes of “Plainsong” begin to ripple across the crowd of 65,000. Many, deep in chatter, fail to notice the subtle notes. A few astute ones who were there in the years that “Plainsong” started every show (perfectly) hear it and set their geeking-out Canadian companions shrieking in defiance of the dust of lush grass gone to burnt hay. Here it comes, like a wave of joy and transcendence (take that lazy writers of years past with your too-short dictionaries. There is no gloom here. There is no cave. There rarely was. This is the greatest band of so many colours, moods, shades, who can write your wedding song and, yes, dirges when called to do so, who observe the world wryly and always from a safe distance lest they be lumped in with the enemy (groupthink, a mob, the corrupt, the cruel) who work harder than anyone and, yes, that applies to every word, every idea, every note, and every chord, to this very day, when they have nothing to prove to anyone but were and are vital and will never be anything less than full on.)
One of Robert Smith’s guitars, all of them simple, elegant, black, with personal messages affixed to them, says a message we’ve seen before: Citizens Not Subjects. Back on the amp that always is draped with the Reading Club flag is another subtle call to action: England Awake. This is the way of The Cure. They never scream or shout their activism or get embarrassingly political, (just as they never will sell out) but rather, win the day in this way. We are within earshot and sight line of Buckingham palace, with the flag up. The resistance is here; it is glowing, it is extreme-weather resistant and it is full of English vigour.
There will be 29 songs played tonight. They will cross most of the albums of the band’s extensive catalog and selections have to solve a larger puzzle: how does a band who sets records for show length & variety worldwide possibly come in under two hours on a public city park’s firm curfew, all while pleasing the fans, fulfilling their own wish list of the day and offering something different than the recent Meltdown gig? There’s also the little details: their dazzling, beautiful light show that works best at dusk or later; their visuals, which become a concert film, (an artform they innovated early on with Tim Pope, who, we hear later, is in the control booth, working on the upcoming and much longed for Cure Anniversary documentary) and other fine points we fans never need to worry about that fall together seamlessly only after endless hours of toil. No one needs to think about all this to enjoy being among the crowd at Hyde. But some of us do enjoy imagining systems, unseen teams, projects; the well of creativity that hides the grit under the glitter of great artists. There lies inspiration we hope to borrow from.
With a little over two hours to play, The Cure streamlines things, and they do this with subtle brilliance. There is a minimum of chatter until later on. There’s not (and never will be) any of the pomp and distraction of today’s popstars, with circuses of distraction and set building that hide the very slim show that can fit inside a match’s first half, at twice the price of this full day on three stages. Cure songs tonight flow into each other, the pauses minimal for the smallest thirst-quench or guitar change, the minutes budgeted. The visionary hand is evident. The care and attention to detail and love, even, is clear. And so, it goes.
A few stray notes: Burn – Has any original song in recent memory ever become so iconically linked to a film’s theme (The Crow) and yet remained so reflective of the band who made it? Rarely played, this song has become the latter-day entry point for the casual, soundtrack buying young fan to find their way into the best music community on earth where we dream crow black dreams.
It is melting hot. These are men, who, with the exception of Simon in his signature singlet (he’s wireless today and makes the most of it) dress in long sleeves and pants, smart, English. Reeves Gabrels doubles down against the heat in Rock and Rollers are too cool to feel the heat black velvet, worn casually. He has some beautiful guitar moments in “Never Enough”, and, while no longer the new guy, plays music for likely his first time live that matches the heart rhythms of many: “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and “Grinding Halt” are reportedly played for the fist time since 2011.
For those who like to cluck like mothers over the boys we’ve watched all our lives, there’s a bit of a Robert and Simon cuddle around the halfway point of the show that warms our hearts. This is a special day, after all. We fans start to think it is ours and then we realize it goes back to the hearts of boys in a gritty city south of London, long ago.
There are those in the crowd who want “the hits” and service is paid not because of the whiners but because they are great songs. They are fun songs. They are the only party songs many have ever loved. The occasion and the location, and maybe the current weight of the world these days, lead the show away from some of the depths Cure fans so enjoy swimming in. Robert Smith is a master, on album track arrangements and with set lists, of taking the crowd through mood journeys as day goes to dusk and then night, and so, for tonight, the band stays on a trail that is clearly marked. It is marked by The Cure’s own history-making epic, one that defined us all, a generation.
DISINTEGRATION, back in 1989, almost instantly went through a looking glass of its own majesty and resonance with the world, transforming an artist’s bleakness & despair into one of survival, a soundtrack for that of others, creating music for sadness and people who find the world hard, offering a side-effect free kind of anthemic permanence in the community of music appreciation.
Through bare honesty, contradiction and fearlessness (expressed as fear but made into art, and so, made fearless) the music of Disintegration transformed itself and was transformed by all who received it into a battle cry. Because we were there. Because we are still here.
Writers watch, for cues, the few great artists who can turn pain into transcendence. It’s rare, and spectacular. It’s mystical, something that aligns with the universe, resisting all negative messages that would tell someone in pain not to share this, air it, and let the light at it, to see if it helps the creator, or anyone else, get out from under it (and even, turn it around). This review will stay on the clearly marked path, too, but it behooves us all to be mindful of the darkness we’ve all felt encroaching friends, peers and loved ones today, that music grapples with so well, that we wish could have saved everyone we now miss.
It is increasingly clear to me as a student of this band that what The Cure means to this aching world is the very opposite of what Robert Smith sings about through the darker records we love to pieces and all through Disintegration. (It’s similar to a phenomenon occurring over decades with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.) The music that resonates with us deeply and widely transforms and is transformative, with no one immune to the unplanned effects. The title track is an exorcism of personal demons:
But I never said I would stay to the end
So I leave you with babies and hoping for frequency
Screaming like this in the hope of the secrecy
Screaming me over and over and over
I leave you with photographs, pictures of trickery
Stains on the carpet and stains on the scenery
Songs about happiness murmured in dreams
When we both of us knew how the ending would be (Disintegration: The Cure)
A man on the verge of a turning-30 crisis, a particular type of artist crisis, wrote those words around the time he up and married the girl he’d loved since the age of fifteen (they are a very private couple and life-long loves.) He was worried, not psychic. He was feeling so low in himself, as outer quick fixes and self-medications and coping strategies clashing with inner ones in turmoil that, yet, somehow led to success and great music (but had not changed the pain of being in this world) and so, this Disintegration is apocalyptic, it threatens to burn it all to the ground. Fans in 1989 loved this artist like a friend, like a brother; they worried for him, they worried for themselves, for the world, and for the future. The artist and the fans got through it and past it and over it, we believe. We who are still here. Disintegration ultimately tells us that if we write it, worry it out and bravely release it from our hearts, we can change the result of depression, angst, anger, betrayal, anxiety, crisis. For we can. In art, music, and sharing, the pain does not eat at us, so much, lessening the pressure valve. The interior battle is not the same as the one we share with another, even in a fight, if there is love. If there is love still there at the other end of the row, we have learned something, we are closer. Love grows through tears as well as laughter. And the difference of a sad diary and venting to a friend is the difference of night and day, up and down, even life and death.
Disintegration. Robert Smith. The Cure. Leaving and dashing it all, quitting before you can fail, a cathartic explosion but – no. This was not how the ending would be.
This record, this band’s legacy since 1989, when they created an album that changed the world like no other of its time, is the opposite of disintegration. Here are just a few stories I know first hand, that Cure music has had a role in creating. No doubt others out there can echo these stories or add to them greatly:
There are now beautiful children in the world named Elise and Kiera named for this band. (There are no doubt also “Wendys”, “Roberts” and “Charlottes”.)
Youtube commenters regularly share with strangers their deepest feelings such as: “The Cure is like a vital organ for me; like my heart or lungs. Their music helps me remain alive.”
Old friends grown distant have reconnected (over not their more-sad-than-happy memories of youth but) through the shorthand of the music and this band, which helped them through rough times and also meant the best soundtrack made their young lives less painful. Their reconnection has meant supporting each other through projects and daily life again. This is the power of music that goes river deep, defying stats or figures or the reporter’s limited eye.
Friends make plans to meet locally, or even in foreign countries, like attaches to a state called music, for this band. Hyde Park was the site of many such meetings including our own. Others failed to meet due to the obstacles of life & technology but still gush to each other in passing about this once-in-a-lifetime shared experience. They danced to Boys Don’t Cry at a pop-up club in celebration of a man’s recovery, just last month, seventeen again, always, in music.
Experienced fans who’ve been lucky enough to see this band live numerous times find new layers and things to love in new settings, forming the backbone of new adventures. Their self-designed tours are Cure-coloured, but only The Cure or other true fans would ever decode this. These are cool girls with double lives as professionals.
Multi-generational fans at Hyde Park include grown kids accompanying their Cure-loving dads, who’ve happily reached retirement age (and may that era be long and happy.)
People who were lonely and depressed kids who made it out and through quite openly and honestly credit Cure music for having had a positive, lasting effect on their lives. We are many. We are here.
A woman in her 40s who lives in the UK, incredibly, seeing her favourite band for the first time at Hyde Park, speaks to a stranger, is not asked why this is so but instead is simply told “I’m so glad you’re here now, with us.” Her eyes saucer-wide, she grabs the stranger’s arms, saying “I’m fourteen again.” She is told: “We all are. So are they (the band).”
People who’ve always been at the same gigs in big cities lately have gone analog, making friends like we used to, through the currency we always trusted as kids pre-technology: music taste. T-Shirts. A nod in the pub when the right vinyl is spun. The vinyl is sometimes ours, and dates to the early 1980s and includes reissues of played-out copies that will never be thrown away.
A resistant friend comes back from vacation asking to borrow Disintegration having come around to it scoring his own lengthy trip through Thailand, his eyes wide and evangelical, as his friends nod sagely. He finally needed it, and it was there, and now we talk about it, it forms a shorthand.
When you are happy, celebrating your own milestones and anniversaries and out of the woods, you spin Disintegration joyously, like at the end of a scary movie in the cool dark. Your heart has only ever beat one way, in melancholia. And that’s OK, as long as you are supported and able to seek support to carry on. Disintegration will always be your jam. It comforts, it lifts, it lets you breathe, snarl and growl, safely.
This show is not only historic and perfect, buoyant well-paced fun, it is a party in the park in a heatwave off a historic football result, the masses swaying, strangers with all kinds of accents familial and kitten as cats.
Hyde Park’s concert closes with a true surprise. With fans not knowing when or how, exactly, things will end, The Cure reveals what they’ve been budgeting for: they whirl through a 10 song encore, including rapid fire quick early singles, a moment I can pretend is just for me, the girl who fell headlong into Standing on a Beach: The Singles, at 14: “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”, “Grinding Halt” (nice pairing) and finally, where it all started, “Killing An Arab”. You can move to these songs, as illustrated by the never-still Simon Gallup and most of over 50 thousand bodies, and these songs are historic, which is why we’re here today, but these songs resonate more and more with time, making subtle but important arguments about life and culture, issues, preoccupations and concerns that affect all people. Boys do/must/should cry: let it out and let us hold you. Sing it out and pick up a guitar and write it to us. Avoid bandwagons, think for yourself, beware of trends and mobs, be you. And think philosophically about what you are told: politics, war, the other, presumed threats, enemies, remembering that we are all the same. People, the other, the stranger, too. You can dance to this. You can cry to it. You can heal to it. You can write a thesis on it. You can name your movie after it, or even, your child, the next generation, permanence, legacy, love itself, walking around out there, bending the world, no doubt. What The Cure is, is eternal, healing, recovery, integration, catharsis, and love.
Robert Smith closes the triumphant show with a few important words.
“It’s thanks to everyone around me that I’m still here.”
“This last bunch of songs is for everyone who’s still here and journeyed with us. I’m glad you could make it. So thank you very much.”
And this is the truth of The Cure:
And when I see you happy as a girl
That swims in a works of magic show
It makes me bite my fingers through
To think I could’ve let you go
And when I see you
Take the same sweet steps
You used to take
I say I’ll keep on holding you
My arms so tight
I’ll never let you slip away
(The Cure: High – Wish)