The SSE Wembley Arena, just across from Wembley stadium, is a relatively well-regarded venue frequented by bands popular enough fill out its 12,500 capacity. The sound quality is very good, and though the alcohol, hot dogs, nachos and suchlike available onsite are awfully overpriced, it seems a suitable venue worthy to host arguably the UK’s most popular alternative rock band, The Cure, who turned forty this year. It is a shame venues of this size almost invariably lack the charm of many smaller joints. Nevertheless, here, tonight’s show is the first of three London dates following Bestival and a European tour.
Opening act The Twilight Sad are a band from Kilsyth (near Glasgow) that play self-professed “folk with layers of noise”. They are often tagged as shoegaze in addition to post-punk and indie rock due to their walls of fuzzy, dreamy guitar noise that sound like they came straight out of ‘Loveless’, with Kevin Shields’ signature glide guitar style being utilised to much the same effect. Despite the lead singer behaving and dancing like some kind of unstable wild beast, occasionally letting out short screams in bursts when away from the microphone, he sings incredibly, with his Scottish accent prominent and endearing, and making listeners wonder if his voice was autotuned (it wasn’t). Funnily enough, the rest of the band don’t seem nearly as excited as James Graham to be there, supporting The Cure (their favourite band), and play through the songs much like on the record.
Twenty-five minutes later, the lights go out. Fans start screaming, and Robert Smith, now 57 years old, makes his way onto the stage with bandmates Simon Gallup – bass, Jason Cooper – percussion, Roger O’Donnell – keyboards, and Reeves Gabrels – guitar; his face still made-up in typical style, grey hair still backcombed and sprayed to defy gravity.
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The band play for nearly 150 minutes straight, with three short encores. Little is said in between songs, a diverse, exciting collection of songs from eight of their thirteen studio albums. ‘Disintegration’, ‘The Head on the Door’ and ‘Wish’ are honoured with four tracks from each, with often overlooked ‘Bloodflowers’ surprisingly having three of its tracks played. The main set opens with ‘Out of This World’ and concludes with ‘Bloodflowers’, neither of which are short songs by any standards. Additional surprise tracks for the night include a very welcome ‘From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea’ (Wish), ‘Primary’ (Faith), ’10:15 Saturday Night’ off of ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ and which hadn’t been performed live in some time, as well as ‘Step into the Light’, an as of yet unreleased track that sounds like The Cure, business as usual.
The final encore is sped through, fan favourite hits jam-packed together like sardines. ‘Friday I’m In Love’ segues into ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ segues into ‘Close to Me’ segues into ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’ The night ends with ‘Killing an Arab’, triggering a sudden mosh pit at the front.
If anything, The Cure proved tonight that not only can they keep things interesting with their setlist and visual aesthetic, but that Robert Smith can still hit 90+% of the high notes with clarity, power and similar delivery to the albums, singing the rest faultlessly for the most part (which is better than can be said for many singers more than twenty years his junior – especially with this vocal style). The rest of the band do more than an adequate job too, with Gabrels’ lead guitar soloing with use of pedals particularly notable, adding a distinct quality to the band’s already rich sonic palette.