[sic] Magazine

THE CURE / Franz Ferdinand – London o2 Arena – 26 Feb 2009

‘Godlike genius’ is a strange place to be in. It has a feeling of being put out to pasture; set away to slowly ferment in mothballs. So for The Cure, staggeringly on their 30th anniversary, were rewarded by the NME for not splitting up, and not going awful with a gong. The flipside of this is that The Cure have to play.

Support comes from Crystal Castles, and Franz Ferdinand. Sadly, Crystal Castles remind of a truncated Republica, straddling the gap between pop and electronica. The arena – the cavernous o2 Arena, which offers all the intimacy of a stadium in a place half the size – manages by its size and design to both distance and invite. For Block 402, set high in the gods, The Cure seem much further away than they actually are by virtue of the fact that I’m watching from a fourth storey perch.

The Franz experience

Franz Ferdinand, meanwhile, have been away for three years, which is a lifetime in pop, and yet, it seems as if it was only yesterday we last saw the quick 1-2 punch of the debut. and You Could Do So Much Better. The new album Tonight, on the strength of tonight’s performance will become a longstanding fixture of their future shows. Opening with a rampaging Matinee, the Franz, often mistaken for a bunch of sharp suits and angular guitar chords, show a depth through surface. Following this with a winning formula of a handful of new songs (Katherine Kiss Me, Ulysses, What She Came For and Turn It On) and a grab bag of old classics, The Franz pace themselves excellently. Never more than three minutes away from a hit single, the huge arena does what huge arenas do. Generally, three-quarters of the arena sits and taps and sings along – aside from one lone dancer in the deserted Block 411 three miles from the stage, and the enthusiastic standing section. In the meantime, songs such as The Outsiders and Walk Away are quietly literate and human, hiding or concealing feeling behind wordplay but at the same time, articulately describing a human condition: What is it to belong? What is it not to belong? What is it to be? As the set comes to an end, the band lose their instruments and crowd around the drum kit in a two minute drum solo – which sounds awful, and horrendously Led Zeppelin 1977, but thankfully is a truncated and massive rhythm of tribal, ethereal percussion. Segueing effectively into the closing, “This Fire”, Franz are demonstrating the kind of fluid musicianship and songwriting that will stand them in good stead for the future. Franz Ferdinand are here to stay and the future could be theirs.

Thirteenth dream? The 'Godlike' Cure

Meantime, The Cure could be seen by some as ageing, ancient rock dinosaurs: 26 line-ups and 13 albums into their lives, The Cure could, and should in some eyes, be a plodding irrelevance, making records through a dull habit, not trying anything new, never going anywhere. Their latest record, 4:13 Dream, sold steadily but not spectacularly, and for the first time in their lives, The Cure toured the album for six months before it came out, and after release have played only six shows; presumably they have been squirreled away putting finishing touches to the already-written next record.

The Cure never ‘phone it in’. It’s never just another gig for The Cure. An average Cure show is three and a half hours, and tonight’s set is a truncated two hour experience: book-ended by large portions of the debut Three Imaginary Boys and the latest 4:13 Dream (with six songs from each), The Cure meanwhile play, for the first time, something from every album.

The world according to Smith

“Goldlike geniuses” The Cure have by virtue always been perverse, always followed their own muse and done what they want to, and there is no guarantee that they will ever play any one particular song, you can be guaranteed that a Cure set will cover most points of their artistic repertoire. In the huge o2 meanwhile, the Cure perform songs of common, communal intimacy on such a grand scale that you can feel alone in a crowd of thousands, simultaneously feeling both distanced by the huge venue and yet intimately next to the band themselves. It’s a rare trick few can achieve.

They open with Underneath The Stars from the latest record: it is, like many opening songs, a coiled spring that slowly emerges into view, unfolds like a flower, musical origami. From the off mind you, it is clear this is no greatest hits set: Under performing, and often overlooked albums such as Wild Mood Swings, and Bloodflowers, see “Want” and “Maybe Someday”. These aren’t bad songs, but more that they are often underplayed and under appreciated these days, and thus, suffer from a lack of familiarity, not a lack of quality. Thankfully, this is not The Cure nostalgia show, and thus, whilst the crowd roar approval for “A Forest” and “Three Imaginary Boys” (both played mid-set for the first time in decades), they also represent their massive selling Disintegration and Wish albums with not “Lullaby” or “Friday I’m In Love”, but eight minute epics.

The Holy Hour?

What becomes clearer with time is that this line-up of The Cure is fast becoming the definitive one for me, and I’ve seen many line-ups over the past two decades. Stalwarts Robert Smith and Simon Gallup play with the passion I’ve always seen: Smith works harder than he has for a long time now that the band are a four and not a five-piece, filling the sound with his constant and under-rated guitar work. Gallup is one of the under-rated bassists of human history with a distinctive but understated style and a signature sound. Drummer Jason Cooper meanwhile, having joined the band at the exact moment The Cure stopped having hit singles (in the Oasis massacre of 1996), has been unfairly treated. He plays with precision and accuracy, and is one of the best drummers in the world.

In the meantime, the cause for The Cure’s rejuvenation is Porl Thompson; having rejoined four years ago, he uses one single guitar to fill the space of the keyboards and rhythm and lead guitar simultaneously. I’ve fast come to the conclusion that he’s one of the most versatile and effective players there is, and the passion he shows as he plays is both thrilling and enthusing. He weaves dense sounds through a mixture of playing that is as powerful sonically as Bernard Butler or Johnny Marr, giving the band a renewed purpose. The newer material, especially songs such as “Hungry Ghost” or the apocalyptic wig out that is “It’s Over” are given a passionate bite and vigour by his addition: no longer do The Cure perform write, long staid epics but massive excursions in sound that are both small and huge in sound and scope.

Blue Sunshine?

Annoyingly, the couple behind me won’t stop talking about the architecture of the venue whilst The Cure is performing “Primary”. It is only when they open the encore with “Boys Don’t Cry” that the infuriating pair shut up. “At long fucking last!” the woman says, “Something I know!” Oh, go away.

The encore meanwhile is a reprise of most of the debut, with a brilliant medley of “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and “Grinding Halt”, as well the A and B of the debut single: ”10.15” and “Killing An Arab”. These may be traditional Cure bookends now, but they still retain the passion of the day they were first performed. Even at this late stage, with a combined age of about 190 The Cure are still exploring, still going somewhere, still determined not to succumb to the temptations of being a nostalgia act and writing material now as good as ever. Time will judge them wisely, and the music world will be a smaller place when they eventually end, as all things do. But for now, their future is promising and if they remain this vital to the end, they should serve as an example that shames lesser talented peers who are contented to rest on their laurels and treat the music that saved and changed lives as a pension fund. Be ashamed for them, and proud of this.

Listen (Cure)

Listen (Franz)

Tonight album review

For more from Mark please visit The Mark Reed website