The Cure at Malahide Castle: Brilliant, contagious, swoonsome
Review: The supposedly gloomy band treat the crowd to two-and-a-half-hours of pure joy
Robert Smith of the Cure. Photograph: Don Arnold/WireImage
The filmmaker John Waters recently discussed the younger generation’s engagement with youth culture. He was very impressed by their ability to hack things, he said, but added “It seems to me [they] should at least have an outfit for that.”
Cure fans had an outfit. In the 1980s or 1990s you never had to say to them, “Well, what music do you like? Wham? Dubstep? Lonnie Donegan?”
They all took their cue from Cure singer Robert Smith and dressed like monochrome troll dolls wobbling witchily in hell’s breeze. I dressed like this myself for a time - the eyeliner, the backcombed hair, the smock-like jumpers but it’s a high maintenance look and it’s hard to pull off if you work in the bank, or a building site or the paper of record.
Most of the largely middle-aged crowd at Malahide Castle has come to the same conclusion. There are a cadre of lifelong Cureheads around but many of the rest have simply pulled out our darkest clothes for the occasion. “I’m in at Malahide castle,” says one senior civil servant I know down the phone. “I’m the one in the black jacket, you can’t miss me.”
The Cure are, if you don’t already know, brilliant. Born in an era when British pop was unashamedly eccentric, they’re a gloomy band by reputation who actually specialise in explosions of pure joy.
They have two key modes both of which I enjoy. They do short sharp surprisingly funky pop masterpieces, like Friday I’m in Love and In Between Days, and long gothy dirges with heavy guitar delays and string synths, like you can find on the neurological scans of moody teens.
In the context of an open-air gig like this, think of their sound as an attempt to make “outside” sound like an echoey cave. Their set design, at the outset, is black as pitch although over the course of the night it displays fiery flames and a spooky spider web. “Can we make the stage a little darker please?”
I imagine Robert Smith saying during the tech rehearsal. “Could we perhaps throw a cloth over that luminous orb?”
“Um, it’s daytime, Robert. That luminous orb is the sun.”
Robert Smith is still a hugely engaging presence. He has leant into the fashion choices he made as a much younger man and nowadays looks like a fantastical Adventure Time character with his smeared red lipstick, smock-like shirt and shock of backcombed hair. He exudes a sort of effortless charisma with his pitch perfect, half strangled croon, despite rarely moving from the spot where he picks and strums.
He occasionally does an exotic waggly dance that is largely finger-based and which you will remember from after your third pint of snakebite in Fibber Magees back in 1991. At one point he plays a sort of tribal flute and I momentarily suspect that he’s going to lure all of the middle-aged former goths into the Liffey.
Long-time bass-player Simon Gallup does most of the moving on stage (most of the others cling to their guitar pedals and keyboards). He’s still wiry in a vest, tight jeans and a topknot. This is a look only a member of the Cure can get away with so put away any thoughts of copying him (yeah, I’m looking at you).
He lunges around the stage wielding a lowslung bass which is, I note, bright yellow, a colour surely banned by the Cure handbook.
“Simon, I need to talk to you about your bass guitar,” I imagine Robert Smith will say to him later on the tour bus, which is also a hearse, probably.
Okay, he most definitely won’t do this. Smith is, despite his sartorial choices, one of the most level-headed cheerful men in rock and he spends the gig shooting enthusiastic grins at the crowd and at his band mates. There is a moment when he and Gallup are huddled together while playing the trancelike riff for A Forest that’s quite touching, particularly if you’re obsessed with the early eighties post-punk Cure records, which I presume you are.
Their low-key glee is contagious. I swoon to the swoonsome Just Like Heaven and spend the duration of In Between Days strummy, shiny pop dancing with a queue of people as I try to buy a sausage sandwich for my wife (she doesn’t even appreciate it because she’s too busy dancing).
They play for two and a half hours and cover most points in their career. So I won’t name each hit but let me just refresh your memory about how great they are by telling you about their encore. After a little ramble about how he once lived in Dublin, Smith leads his band through the spookily baroque Lullaby, the almost folkily weird Caterpillar and joyously jangly Doing the Unstuck.
Then he has the whole audience singing along to the poptastic perfection of Friday I’m in Love, dispenses with his guitar and dances like a haunted puppet for the funkadelic Why Can’t I Be You and almost brings a field full of aged boys (and girls) to tears with Boys Don’t Cry.
By the end Smith has banished the luminous orb (the sun) from the sky and unleashes his unholy hordes onto the streets of Malahide where they may buy a kebab or possibly wait until they get home and have toast.