The Cure, Sydney 2011 - live reviewThe Cure
'Reflections' for Vivid LIVE
Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Tuesday 31st May, 2011
Truth be told, the interior of the Sydney Opera House is a little dowdy. Though the guts of the iconic Jørn Utzon designed building do boast endless ceilings, stalls and those towering pipes of the room's Grand Organ, there's a decidedly retro, beige quality to the space. Enormous, clear plastic space rings hang above the stage; the roof is corrugated with long, arching lines and various little pockmarks and turrets are plotted around the room in some kind of artful, no doubt acoustically-minded arrangement—like the fantastic interior of a space station as imagined from the '30s. Into this undecided space at 7:15 on a Tuesday night, Robert Smith, Simon Gallup and Jason Cooper walk in to a deafening roar, attend to their own instruments and play The Cure's nervy, post-punk 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys in its entirety.
The Sydney Opera House was only five years old when The Cure—then, Robert Smith, Michael Dempsey and Lol Tolhurst (the latter of whom is here tonight, but not yet...and not to play drums)—came together in West Sussex and recorded their debut. Since then the band has verily gone on to define alternative music in their own image; spawn countless imitators, progenies, ex-band members and press ink, all largely thanks to the singular vision (and persistent hairdo) of frontman Robert Smith.
Like a great many albums from the '70s and '80s, the band's clutch of early albums sound terribly of-a-period to listen to now. Thin, tinny, flat. (Though admittedly, this does somewhat add to the appeal). So when a wry Robert Smith says "Let's go back thirty-three years" and the bass comes in on opening track '10.15 on a Saturday Night', the sound ushering out is gorgeous. How you presume it must have always sounded, from an era before you were there— full, lively, coloured with tones that the record never suggested. So too Smiths's voice, which—despite him avoiding several higher notes along the way—sounds better than ever. This incredibly balanced, rich sound will remain for the rest of the night, and it's this new tonal range that will make the replaying of old material present in a way that we never could have expected.
The eternally youthful Simon Gallup is the early focal point, crouching low as he does for the high-stringed melodic bass runs on a snappy 'Grinding Halt'. 'Another Day' tests out the lights, tendrils of dry ice curling up through gold beams which explode into red strobes for the frantic 'Object'. Robert Smith breaks out the harmonica for an instrumental take on 'Subway Song, dropping in guitar wails in place of the albums spoken lyrics.
(When I reviewed Metallica last year, I was struck by the bands on stage concessions to the audience. No pedals, a circular stage with mics in each pocket, a space to frame the band's men into larger than life superheroes. The Cure instead come across as very much individuals engaging with their instruments. Smith fiddles with the bridge of his guitar throughout the night; roadies only come on stage in between sets, Smith tuning and picking up and changing his own damn guitar. Which, in some small way, seems entirely apt for a band celebrating their once innocent inception.)
Smith may have professed to "hate" the band's off-the-cuff cover of 'Foxy Lady', but he sings it here with gusto, and its pairing with the snappy 'Meathook' is noticeable for the audiences newfound jiggling up front. "I hope I remember this" Smith warns, before a fantastic version of 'So What'—an almost throwaway on record is rendered purposeful and sleek in this new context; an early highlight. 'Fire in Cairo' alternatively has the band's energy flagging for a moment, before 'It's Not You' sneers through the auditorium in a fire of strobes. After a languid title track to close this first set, Smith raises his guitar and says a cheery "That was it", before the trio walk off, leaving us to collect in the stupidly scenic glass-walled bar, to compare breathless notes, booze on and watch the tugs motor past the sparkling harbour, with its great Bridge and Opera House and Glass and Lights and spectacular dreamy things painted around this pause in ours.
(Continued next page - 'Seventeen Seconds')
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