3Arena is packed to the rafters with a capacity crowd who’ve flocked from all parts of Ireland and beyond. That’s partly because The Cure inspire an especially fervent brand of fandom that will prompt many to catch multiple dates of this whopping 44-night European tour. Another enticement for Thursday night’s vast gathering is that Cure shows have been relatively thin on the ground here. During the band’s early years, their only Irish appearance was at the 1981 Trinity Ball. In 2017 their former drummer and keyboardist, Lol Tolhurst, told me he still remembers driving around the bodies passed out in a Dublin street at 6am.
The Cure didn’t get around to making their official Irish live debut until 1989, when their Prayer tour parked up at the RDS – although they shot a video for their 1987 single Why Can’t I Be You? at Ardmore Studios, in Bray, and Robert Smith, their frontman, lived in a cottage in Dalkey, in south Co Dublin, for 18 months. Since the RDS they’ve appeared at the old Point Depot twice, at the Oxegen and Electric Picnic festivals, and at Malahide Castle.
Robert Smith is now 63. Once renowned for a revolving-door approach to band membership, he is now flanked by Roger O’Donnell on keyboards, who, after stints in The Psychedelic Furs and Thompson Twins, has been in The Cure since 1987, and Simon Gallup, their talismanic bassist, who claimed to have left the band last year according to an exasperated Facebook post saying he was sick of “betrayal”.
You might expect that sort of language from teenagers rather than veteran musicians, but the band have coalesced into a stable line-up in recent years. Even Tolhurst, reputed to have been turfed out of the band because of his then-prodigious alcohol consumption, and who subsequently took his former bandmates to court, now very proudly speaks of being a lifelong member of the Cure family.
While this family has had more than its share of dysfunction, then, the mood in the camp is visibly joyous for a band who don’t really do a lot onstage. Their curtain-opener, Alone, is a new slow-burner that begins with Smith singing, “This is the end of every song that we sing.”
Smith has said that a succession of family tragedies and a litany of loss have inspired the most recent Cure songs, reflecting on losing his mother, father and brother. The singer who once declared that “it doesn’t matter if we all die” is now evaluating exactly what happens when everyone else dies.
Pictures of You, from the album Disintegration, follows, classic Cure at their most irresistibly lovelorn and romantic. The strongest suite of songs in the main set starts with At Night, from Seventeen Seconds, arguably the greatest second album ever made, and continues with A Strange Day and The Hanging Garden, both from Pornography, the revered fourth album that lays a claim to be the darkest album ever made.
The stage production and visuals become breathtaking for Push, as a camera from behind Jason Cooper’s drum kit projects the delirious crowd on to vast screens. For Shake Dog Shake, a propulsive goth-metal rock song from 1984, the six imaginary boys who constitute the band’s line-up in 2022 are starkly silhouetted.
For the first set of encores Smith introduces an intense and emotional new song entitled I Can Never Say Goodbye, which he says is about his brother, Richard. “Something wicked this way comes to steal away my brother’s life,” he mournfully sings before launching into another stunning run of songs, including Cold (also from Pornography), Charlotte Sometimes and the perennial crowd-pleaser A Forest, which Simon Gallup elongates by noisily stabbing his bass during its outro.
The second encore set is a giddy sugar rush of nothing but hits. Lullaby, The Walk, Friday I’m in Love, Close to Me, In Between Days, Just Like Heaven and Boys Don’t Cry cap a monumental 28-song performance that has something for everyone in the impressively diverse audience of wizened goths rubbing shoulders with stylish millennials.
After all these years, The Cure are still a band apart. They remain an impeccably tuned, laser-focused outfit who deftly join the dots between postpunk, indie and goth while creating an entire universe of their own.