4/1/1991 Q (1-17-91 T.C. & II, England Show Review)
Intimate: 'Five Imaginary Boys', 400 fans, one secret Cure gig. The Cure London, Town & Country II January 17, 1991
"Happy Robert?" asks a voice from the darkness.
"I'm happy," chirps Robert Smith, Cure boss and known for being no stranger to the rigours of all out misery. "Within the parameters of never being happy that is."
The rest of The Cure smile. Their leader is on form and, finally, an exhaustive soundcheck is over. Smith has even managed to croon his way through Paul Weller's English Rose, sing solo Cure songs in a frighteningly scale scaling manner and generally assume the persona of pop-star-having-a-good-time-under-the-circumstances.
Things are not entirely what they seem. The cramped stage of the far-from-cavernous Town & Country II is not a natural home for a band of The Cure's pulling power and the tickets for the evening's festivities mention only "Five Imaginary Boys" in distinctly uncryptic Cure calligraphy. Like the Rolling Stones at the 100 Club, The Police at The Marquee (an ill-fated event - nobody turned up) and The Sex Pistols almost anywhere this is a secret gig.
Only it isn't really secret at all. If it were, nobody would have attended save a gaggle of A&R men and the pair who got the wrong night for Dumpy's Rusty Nuts. For secret gigs to work, the tiny venue, honoured by the presence of major figures, must heave and perspire and pulse and creak with hardcore fans aware of the life-altering nature of what they are privileged to experience.
To this end The Cure informed fan club members within the M25 circle, the record label ensured a media/celebrity turnout (Jonathan Ross, Cocteau Twins, Janice Long), Snub TV film the proceedings and The Cure themselves plan a video around the whole event.
"It's strange," chuckles Smith with the air of someone who doesn't find "it" strange at all. "We were going to do this as a low key, but it's turned out different. It's a media circus."
There's also the matter of the British Music Weekend a few days later. The Cure have not trod boards of any description since their outdoor Summer jamboree at Crystal Palace. The band are rusty.
"We are, but we're still better than anyone else. We take this very seriously," admits Smith in his understated, moderately posh burr which forever seems poised between mocking and deadly earnest. "We've probably rehearsed more intensely for this than for a major concert - two whole days. It's something we haven't done since 1984 when we played in Bristol and Bath before the Elephant Fayre."
But being pros, The Cure do not fear small stages.
"It's good," says Smith. "It gives you an excuse to just stand there. We rehearse in a small semi-circle anyway. We don't really have good memories of that period because we were trying to be atmospheric and moody and clubs aren't the best places to do that. We won't be going back to smaller venues because I don't like touring for long periods of time and it's pointless being selective about who can come and see you. On the other hand when we play to more than 5,000 I feel we lose an awful lot. We only played stadiums in America just to show people we're up there with all the other fools who do it. The easiest solution is not to bother touring, haha. Anyway there are other things I miss more about being young than playing in clubs with The Cure."
"Like going to school."
Outside, the touts are asking £100 (and getting £50) for tickets from fans alerted by the Evening Standard's rash plug for the event. The unlovable Jonathan King enters with a toothpick between his lips and is roundly hissed to his apparent joy.
Inside, it's hot but not steaming. The fans crowd the front, conscious of the sence of occasion. The rest, media folk and record company personnel, comfortably strut around the bar area.
"There'll be a lot of uptempo stuff tonight," predicts Smith with all the certainty of a man who decides and writes the set list. "It's that sort of occasion."
The lighting is suitably dimmed, long-time manager Chris Parry does the introductions in much the same way as Paul Weller's dad John introduced The Jam, and The Cure shuffle on stage as if they had been dragged to MFI by home decorating partners on FA Cup Final day. Ever contrary, they open with the new, and far from uptempo, The Big Hand. Like the other three virgin songs aired, it is stubbornly free of choruses or hook lines. It meanders through the usual Cure territory of vague angst with a knowing wink and willfully perverse song structures.
"I don't know what will happen to these songs, I'm partially unconvinced by three of them," admits Smith. "I very much doubt they represent the direction we'll be going in. We've been missing introducing new songs to an audience before, not necessarily from the point of view of how they react to them, but so we can figure out the easiest way to play them."
The Cure amble through assorted album tracks. Fascination Street and Pictures Of You from Disintegration benefit markedly from the intimate atmosphere. Dressing Up from The Top takes on whole new meanings as if it were destined for small scale clubs all it's stadium-frequenting life. The fanatics know all the words and sway along in appropriate time. Smith even smiles as he displays his entire stagecraft, which, as he says, involves "just standing there", clasping the mic with both hands, leaning towards it and letting the word perfect stream of consciousness flow, although the spectacularly feeble spider impersination during Lullaby needs work.
Despite the ostensible aloofness, there is still joy being in The Cure. The screamers peering between the legs of the video crew understand in the same way as the long coated, earnest young men whose lives were changed by A Forest.
"My only ambition was to do whatever I wanted to do," Smith chuckles in a manner only the terminally generous could find enigmatic. "The Cure is an ideal group to be in, we even go out together."
Things begin to get overheated as the stomp through the greatest hits commences with The Walk. Inbetween Days and Let's Go To Bed emphasise just how sprightly The Cure's hit canon is. They eclipsed punk, dropped out of the art school scene, vaulted Goth and now remain as simply The Cure, too askew to even spawn imitators. And still they refuse to do anything on stage except play those songs.
As people are carefully pulled from the throng by suspiciously descent security folk, it seems the more uncommunicative The Cure's myth declares them to be, the more committed the keener fans become.
"We're supposed to be unapproachable, but that just isn't true", argues Smith. "Generally we're very amenable to people. I'd much rather talk to people outside than have to be hustled in and then sit on your own. We're not surly, we're not ignorant and we don't get drunk and smash places up. We're quite a quiet band, we just keep to ourselves an awful lot."
Close up, Smith's troopers reveal roles which tend to be overwhelmed in a stadium environment. Simon Gallup's bass is a careful foil to Smith's often unusual phrasing - both Gallup and drummer Boris Williams wouldn't sound out of place in a funk act. Porl Thompson's guitar often sounds slightly out of tune, but the same effect crops up on the records. Maybe that's why The Cure have that unique edge. Maybe their guitar roadie is hopeless. Latest new boy Perry Bamonte (one time Cure guitar roadie, interestingly enough) is perfect Cure material. He isn't going to be marching around stage giving it some, Whoh Highbury, alriightt, but he can play an expressive tune without expression.
"I've never been noted for communicating between songs," confessed Smith. "What can you say? I always think of the people out there who don't like us and I really don't want to speak to them. Anyway, the others on stage get the hump and look at me like I'm an idiot."
But tonight, Smith does deign to speak between songs as the crush at the front is causing genuine concern for more than the toppled monitors.
"Move back," he urges. "I can see fucking yawning chasms. If everyone pressed up against the bar like we would, you could take a run at us. I know it's impossible but again I have to say move back anyway. Maybe," he improvises with characteristic peculiarity, "you should all turn around, then the people at the bar will think they're at the front."
Just as the mass begins to comply with his backwardly mobile wishes, Smith then decides on a misguided spot of flesh-pressing and then crush, inevitably, returns. Essentially though, humour is good. Robert Smith is still screamed at by many old enough to know better and the introduction to Goth Golden Oldie - A Forest is punctuated by syncopated hand clapping that Iron Maiden's Barmy Army could only envy.
They take a break. Not in the middle of the performance, but shortly before the finale proper. Smith takes the time to adjust his make up, tease the raven candy-floss tresses, further rumple his studiously untucked flowery shirt and inspect his pair of ludicrously outsized trainers. They return, play two more songs, ending with Never Enough. Neither set nor encore, you note, includes English Rose.
Eternal mavericks doggedly ploughing their own furrow, The Cure could be warm-blooded Kraftwerk (A Forest), or an easy-access Swell Maps (Disintegration), but they remain most convincing as themselves - the lovely guitar chimes of Boys Don't Cry or the new and enticingly intricate Wendy Time (with it's "It doesn't touch me at all" mantra) or the scaring and uncompromising fever pitch-paced Killing An Arab which ended a hard-fought but ultimately winning set on the day war broke out in The Gulf. By way of comment, Robert Smith opted for his usual mysterious silence.
1 The Big Hand
2 Pictures Of You
4 Fascination Street
6 Letter To Elise
7 Just Like Heaven
8 Dressing Up
9 Wendy Time
10 The walk
11 Let's Go To Bed
12 Why Can't I Be You?
13 Inbetween Days
14 A Forest
16 A Strange Day
17 In Your House
19 Never Enough
20 Three Imaginary Boys
21 Boys Don't Cry
22 10.15 (Saturday Night)
23 Killing An Arab
- John Aizlewood