The Cure - Live Review - Wembley Arena, London

The Cure - Live Review - Wembley Arena, London

by Mils / Dec 15, 2022 / 0 comments
Monday, 12 December 2022

The Cure wrap their Lost World Tour of Europe with three Wembley Arena shows that are all about astonishing new songs, the mood swings of an epic back catalogue, and a celebration of the big pop hits. Nils van der Linden was there, with photos by Naomi Dryden-Smith from the Glasgow show.

“So the fire is almost out and there’s nothing left to burn,” Robert Smith claimed on 39, which dealt with the prospect of turning 40. That was almost 25 years ago. On the basis of The Cure’s live shows over the past decade, three phenomenal performances at Wembley Arena this week, and five spectacular new songs, someone had better call the fire department. That fire’s still blazing.

Musically those new songs, from the long-awaited album Songs Of A Lost World, are dark and atmospheric. Lyrically influenced, at least in part, by the deaths of his parents and a sibling, they have an air of finality, drenched in loss and (like the best of Smith’s writing) wrestling with the futility of it all. They’d be right at home on Disintegration and flourish throughout a set that, for the most part, favours The Cure’s darker, bleaker tendencies. (As it should.)

Show opener Alone begins with one of those long, moody instrumentals that allows Smith to walk slowly around the edge of the stage, smile shyly, and soak up the audience adoration. It’s an interaction almost as touching as the song itself, an impassioned lament with the refrain “Where did it go?”. The similarly funereal, equally moving And Nothing Is Forever, crafted around a sparkling Roger O’Donnell piano line and a wash of synth strings, has Smith pleading “Promise you’ll be with me in the end”.

The CurePlayed at the first of the three Wembley shows, A Fragile Thing is musically lighter and more immediate, pairing a seemingly less personal third-person relationship-based lyric (think Jupiter Crash or Wendy Time) with yet another glistening piano part and, this time, a big Simon Gallup groove that helps mask the heartbreak contained within.

The spectacular Endsong, in turn, is another slow-burner in the grand tradition of Want or Plainsong. It grows from a rolling Jason Cooper drum fill, synthbed, and Smith’s signature chiming guitar into a tidal wave topped by swirls of Reeves Gabrels six-string sonics and soloing, as Smith quite literally howls at the moon: “It’s all gone, it’s all gone, it’s all gone/ No hopes, no dreams, no world/ No, I don’t belong/ I don’t belong here anymore.”

The most formidable of the new tracks, it still doesn’t come anywhere close to the emotional clobbering of I Can Never Say Goodbye. Introduced with a simple “This is about my brother”, it’s relatively sparse instrumentally. But the forlorn piano melody, guttural guitar solo, and metronomic beat simply create more space for Smith to quite visibly mourn, brought to tears by lines like “Something wicked this way comes/ To steal away my brother’s life.” On night two, especially, he’s still struggling to gain his composure during the traditional Plainsong walkabout that follows, lending the evening an honesty and intimacy rare for any gig, let alone one in an arena. (Is crying contagious? Asking for a friend.)

A similar emotional intensity, although not quite as raw, runs through all three nights — from the songs (and how they’re performed) to the support act. The Twilight Sad, fronted by the hyperkinetic James Graham, are The Cure’s spiritual successors, having learned from the best how to find melody in darkness. Songs like Vtr and I/m Not Here [Missing Face] are all pushed by guitarist Andy MacFarlane’s menacingly distorted riffs, Brendan Smith’s throbbing synths, and the tireless rhythm section of Johnny Docherty and Grant Hutchison, while a persistently pacing Graham offers up lines like “I don’t want to be around me anymore”. There’s A Girl In The Corner (once covered by Smith) is slower but even more dramatic, while their haunting Sunday night rendition of Frightened Rabbit’s Keep Yourself Warm, originally sung by Grant’s late brother Scott, is incredibly moving. Graham gets so lost in the songs it seems he might not find his way back out. This is especially true of [10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs], which closes their Tuesday night set. At its climax, the singer hops onto Hutchison’s bass drum before dropping down to his knees in front of it, as if he can’t quite believe he’s spent almost three months on tour supporting his favourite band.

The Twilight SadSmith isn’t jumping onto Cooper’s kit or shouting lyrics off mic during vocal breaks, but he and the band are still supremely focused during almost 3 hours and roughly 30 songs each show. Gallup especially doesn’t hold back, running across the stage, leaning against Smith during extended instrumentals, draping his arm around Gabrels’ shoulders, hopping onto his monitors, gambolling up to O’Donnell to whisper something in his ear.

Their enthusiasm is tangible as they embrace sets that mix those songs of a lost world with familiar live staples, rarities brought back into circulation for this tour, and genuine surprises. The pining Pictures Of You, aching Lovesong, acid fever dream Shake Dog Shake, yearning A Night Like This, tear-stained epic From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea, incendiary Burn, apocalyptic 100 Years, and hedonist’s checklist Want are all present and accounted for. Twisted travelogue A Strange Day and misty horror story At Night both make welcome returns to the main set, while the effervescent Push, all-waving all-chanting Play For Today, and sinister fairytale singalong A Forest (which Smith describes as still so much fun to play), have the expected effect on the Wembley crowds every single night.

Playing those multiple nights in one city allows The Cure to shake up the set each time and, over the course of three shows, perform most of the rarities they’ve slipped in during the tour. So the likes of tragic Last Day Of Summer, tenderly pleading Trust, creeping death that is Cold, quietly ethereal menace of Faith, rumbling death march The Figurehead, the still feisty M, back to basics Three Imaginary Boys, unrelenting Primary, and keening Charlotte Sometimes all make very welcome appearances at least once.

Tuesday night especially packs in the surprises with even Smith asking at one point: “Who wrote this setlist?”. Despite the obvious weight of reliving the new songs, the singer and (often overlooked) guitarist is in a particularly playful mood across the entire Wembley run. He’s especially chatty during what he terms Sunday’s doom disco (despite admitting that the rest of The Cure, now also featuring the returning Perry Bamonte, don’t like him to talk too much.) Although there’s less talk on Monday (the others told him off, he explains), there’s still time to joke about the ridiculous convention of encores. And Tuesday heralds a few insights into what it’s like to be Robert Smith: after offering the now familiar line that the long-awaited album will be out “soon”, he admits his sense of time boils down to now, soon, and never.

The CureRight now there’s a show at hand, and Smith’s all in, even during the pop hits encore that wraps each show. As the band tick off one massive radio single after another — Lullaby, The Walk, In Between Days, Close To Me, Just Like Heaven, Boys Don’t Cry — the singer is all smiles, hand actions, and silly dance moves. Friday I’m In Love even gets a crooned day-appropriate intro (“Sunday always comes too late”, “Tuesday’s grey”, etc). It’s an obvious celebration that climaxes on the final night with the tour debuts of their earliest releases 10.15 Saturday Night (unrehearsed, claims Smith, although you can’t tell) and Killing An Arab. The latter especially still sounds ferocious almost 45 years later.

Rating out of 11: