The Cure May 19, the Chelsea.
Here’s a clue,” Robert Smith said, holding up a cowbell as his band prepared to play its 29th song of the night, “Freakshow.” His comment slyly nodded at the game fans have been playing throughout The Cure’s latest tour: guess the setlist, or more accurately, marvel at its vastness and unpredictability.
Prior to Thursday’s concert at the Chelsea inside the Cosmopolitan, the English goth icons had played six shows on this North American swing. The statistics from those gigs: 193 songs total (an average of 32.2 per night), 60 different songs performed and up to five encores per show, with as many as six numbers per encore. Add to that the return of tunes that hadn’t been played, in some cases, since the mid-’80s, and The Cure has been rivaling Phish, Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen for the exciting fluidity of its nightly choices.
Crisp and vigorous as the quintet sounded for most of the show—the group’s dense, swirling music found an ideal mate in the intimate Chelsea, and Smith was in fine voice and spirit, dancing about as the clock ticked past the two-hour mark—many will remember The Cure’s first appearance here since 2009 for what the band played, and what it didn’t.
Early on, we got a heavy dose of Disintegration; the night opened with that 1989 touchstone’s first three cuts, “Plainsong,” “Pictures of You” and “Closedown,” with “Lovesong” and “Lullaby” arriving soon thereafter. Deeper cuts like “Trust,” “The Perfect Girl” and “Screw” followed, and then things got explosive, with the night’s 13th song, “The Walk,” instantly upping the energy, which carried through to a series of throbbing, dark numbers toward the end of the main set: “2 Late” (a rarely played B-side), “Want,” “Shake Dog Shake” and “Disintegration.”
From there, we more or less got the Vegas treatment. As in, diehard Cure loyalists traveling to multiple cities called it the closest to a greatest-hits show this tour has seen. Down the stretch, instead of material from moody favorites Faith, Pornography and Bloodflowers, we got an avalanche of singles—“The Lovecats,” “Close to Me,” “Let’s Go to Bed,” “Why Can’t I Be You?” and “Boys Don’t Cry”—and some of them felt perfunctory, or in the case of “Boys Don’t Cry,” downright drowsy.
Poking holes in a 32-song, two-and-a-half-hour goliath of a concert feels strange, but that’s simply the downside to creating such a massive live legend.