Earlier this week, I was listening to “Pictures of You,” one of the many great singles by the British band the Cure, on the subway. It’s a song I’ve heard approximately one million times, and yet when I put it on, time still seems to slow down and everything around me becomes suspended in a romantic haze. I am almost positive the strangers sitting across from me were engaged in a simple conversation about directions. But as Robert Smith yelped dreamily — “Remembering you standing quiet in the rain, as I ran to your heart to be near” — I convinced myself that one of them was actually expressing their unrequited love.
Such was the perspective-altering spell the Cure cast Thursday, on the closing night of a sold-out, three-show run at Madison Square Garden. Given its longevity, stylistic variety and staggering quantity of singles, the Cure is almost too easy to take for granted. But the buzz surrounding this current U.S. tour — “The Cure Are This Summer’s Hottest Rock Tour. Yes, Really,” declared a recent headline in Rolling Stone — suggests we have finally decided to appreciate, en masse, these unlikely, 60-something rock gods in all their glory and enduring weirdness.
And we’re going to do the same today here at The Amplifier, with a playlist culled entirely from the Cure’s live albums. (Listen along on Spotify as you read.)
Earlier this year, Smith became something of an internet folk hero when he publicly took on Ticketmaster for adding its usual litany of mysterious fees to tickets his fans had purchased; he also tried to limit scalpers’ resales to keep prices affordable. (In a rare concession, Ticketmaster agreed to partially refund some Cure fans.)
Thursday night, I got the sense that this was not something Smith was just doing for show: This is a band that noticeably, palpably cares about its fans.
The merch prices were the lowest I’ve seen at a venue like the Garden in many years — at $25, T-shirts were going for about half what most arena-filling acts charge these days. And onstage, Smith emitted a sincere sense of gratitude that I found transfixing. He spent the first five minutes of the set walking to every single corner of the stage and gazing out intensely, as though he were trying and very nearly succeeding in the impossible task of making meaningful eye contact with every one of the thousands of people in the arena.
Yes, Smith still styles himself like a kindler, gentler version of the Joker. But that is about the only concession to spectacle the band makes onstage. The Cure held the audience in a trance without any of the special effects, pyrotechnics or state-of-the-art visuals that most other artists use at a venue that size. Here were six guys just playing their instruments, occasionally striking exaggerated rock poses, but mostly just letting this majestic music speak for itself.
At 64, Smith’s voice has held up almost eerily well. There it was, filling the venue to the rafters in the present tense: that same distinct, keening howl heard on beloved records like “Three Imaginary Boys,” “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” and “Disintegration.” But perhaps the most striking revelation of the live show is Simon Gallup — one of the most appropriately named bassists in rock history — who plays his instrument slung low and constantly reminds the audience how integral his playing is to the Cure’s overall sound. Down in the murky depths of a Cure song, Gallup plays so insistently that his bass riffs are usually as hummable as whatever Smith and Reeves Gabrels (speaking of great rock names) are playing on guitar.
Today’s playlist is an appreciation for the Cure’s reign as a top-notch live act. Save for a few tracks from the excellent 1993 live album “Show” — recorded in Auburn Hills, Mich., in the afterglow of the band’s 1992 album “Wish” — it is mostly filled with recordings from the last decade or so.
You’ll hear songs from the band’s headlining sets at festivals like the British event Bestival and the artist-curated Meltdown festival, which Smith hosted in 2018. Many songs come from the most immaculately recorded of the Cure’s later live albums, “Anniversary 1978-2018,” which documented a triumphant, career-spanning set at London’s Hyde Park. In those recordings, you’ll hear the engulfing majesty of “Plainsong,” the springy bounce of the perpetual singalong “Just Like Heaven” and the slightly slower tempo at which they have been playing “Boys Don’t Cry,” which teases out some of the sumptuous atmospherics of what was once a spikily arranged post-punk song.
May the whole playlist put you in one of those dreamy, rose-colored hazes that brings out the drama and romanticism in everything.
Let’s cut the conversation and get out for a bit,
The Amplifier Playlist
Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.
“The Majesty of the Cure Live” track list
Track 1: “Pictures of You (Live in Hyde Park)”
Track 2: “Lovesong (Live in Hyde Park)”
Track 3: “In Between Days (Live in Auburn Hills, Mich.)”
Track 4: “Just Like Heaven (Live in Hyde Park)”
Track 5: “The Last Day of Summer (Live in London)”
Track 6: “Plainsong (Live in Hyde Park)”
Track 7: “Friday I’m in Love (Live in Auburn Hills, Mich.)”
Track 8: “Boys Don’t Cry (Live in Hyde Park)”
Track 9: “Jumping Someone Else’s Train (Live at Bestival 2011)”