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2/19/2000  San Francisco Chronicle (2-17-00 San Francisco, California Show Review)
The Cure's Sweet Sorrow Can Still Cast a Spell

Madness was in the air weeks before the Cure's Thursday night show at the Fillmore, one of only six stops on its small-club U.S. tour.

Fans who could afford it paid scalpers up to $1,000 a ticket in spite of the venue's anti-scalping voucher system. Others spent all day (and part of the preceding night) waiting in line for a chance to meet the band and get its new (and reportedly final) album, ``Bloodflowers,'' signed at Virgin Megastore. Those who failed to get tickets or signatures simply huddled outside the Fillmore, gazing wistfully at the enormous will-call line snaking down Geary Boulevard.

The night was an improbable event from a band whose continued success is itself an improbability. That a group beginning as a post-punk, proto-Goth outfit could achieve enduring popularity in a mainstream U.S. market goes against every industry formula for success.

The Cure, it seems, has struck a sweet, melancholy nerve in listeners that won't stop aching. This can be credited to the talents of founding songwriter/guitarist/ vocalist Robert Smith, who approached his music like a stylistic chameleon, moving it through its ragged pop beginnings to its breakthrough majestic dirges, then on to the pristine pop of its '80s heyday and now to its final, most compositionally complex incarnation. With a sheepish ``Sorry about the wait,'' referring to the show's 40-minute delay, Smith began the set with ``Out of This World'' and ``Watching Me Fall,'' the opening tracks from ``Bloodflowers.'' Switching from spare drones to melodic surges of synthesizer and guitars, the songs captured the CD's preference for nonlinear structures over pop formulas. Easy verse-chorus alternations became elongated, hypnotic passages that lulled the crowd into a heady stupor. At times Thursday's show felt more like a ceremony than a rock show. The kinetic bounce that marked Cure audiences from earlier years was replaced by polite rapture, pogo-ing enthusiasm tempered to a slow, steady sway. The crowd was a mix of ages and cultures, from balding men in beige to young Goth kids in inky velvet. At 110 minutes, the concert was also a brief one for the Cure -- whose current lineup includes guitarist Perry Bamonte, bassist Simon Gallup, drummer Jason Cooper and keyboardist Roger O'Donnell -- who have been known to play for more than three hours at a stretch. Even the standard encore piece, a marathon rendition of the band's first British hit, ``A Forest,'' was shortened to less than 10 minutes.

Pointedly avoided were hits such as ``Love Cats'' and ``Why Can't I Be You.'' Also missing were the ringing guitar-and-synth melodies that typified the Cure's '80s heyday. And though their absence is certainly part of the band's post-pop bent on ``Bloodflowers,'' it can also be chalked up to the less-than-crystalline sound system that tended to bury vocal and instrumental nuances. Select pieces of older material were peppered among the ``Bloodflowers'' tracks, including ``100 Years'' and ``Figurehead'' from 1982's doomy, existential ``Pornography''; ``Always'' from 1989's equally dark ``Disintegration''; the plaintive ``Edge of the Deep Green Sea'' from 1992's ``Wish''; and ``Want'' from 1996's ``Wild Mood Swings.'' Though probably aching to hear ``Let's Go to Bed'' and ``Caterpillar'' -- not to mention ``Primary'' and ``Lullaby'' -- the audience cheered and joined in when lesser-known classics such as ``Fascination Street'' and ``Strange Days'' came along. Like his music, Smith has grown more complicated with age. In his baggy black shirt and trousers and trademark tousled hair, he looked less like a Goth heartthrob than a darker Dylan in crushed eyeliner. Stage chatter was limited to a few gracious thanks and his promise to ``see you in May,'' referring to the group's spring tour of larger venues. The night's most telling moment came near the close of the set. Delivering the title track from ``Bloodflowers,'' Smith briefly covered his face with his hands, as though closing a pair of shutters, while singing ``This wonder always leaves. . . . The time always comes to say goodbye.''

It seemed a poetic and appropriate gesture for a show that was at once an emotional reunion of long- standing Cure lovers and the first movement of a fond farewell.

- Neva Chonin


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