Robert Smith of The Cure seems mysterious to many people. Having long pegged him as a gloomy gus, some observers scratch their heads when Robert unspools beautiful new music or simply expresses genuine sentimentality.
But the secret to Robert Smith is that there is no secret. He has a tremendously big heart, and he boldly expresses love and longing in the songs of The Cure. But he also expresses the tremendous fear of love lost, love squandered, and love in loneliness. And these thoughts are very painful to him.
This eloquent, passionate Englishman is not so mysterious, and indeed more than 19,300 of us saw him clearly and vividly at Merriweather Post Pavilion when he and his band visited on Sunday with their Shows of a Lost World Tour for a sold-out concert.
Shows of a Lost World takes its name from the upcoming 14th Cure album, Songs of a Lost World, and The Cure have been introducing some new songs from that record over the course of the tour although there have been no official releases (and the album has no set release date). Still, The Cure performed five songs said to be from the new album during their show at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 25, including opening number “Alone” and another “Endsong,” which closed the first set.
“Alone” spoke clearly to those fears that I referenced at the beginning of this analysis. It began: “This is the end of every song that we sing/ The fire burned out to ash and the stars grown dim with tears. Cold and afraid, the ghosts of all that we’ve been/ We toast, with bitter dregs, to our emptiness.”
Similarly, that pain and loss are felt within “Endsong” as well, as Robert sang: “It’s all gone, it’s all gone/ Nothing left of all I loved/ It all feels wrong/ It’s all gone, it’s all gone, it’s all gone.” But pain too was beautiful as Robert crooned over lush guitars and expansive keyboards, and a respective audience absorbed every word, every note, and every motion as a collective — even if it were the first time many of them were hearing these songs.
The Cure put everyone at ease quickly in the show by performing the much-loved “Pictures of You” from the band’s beloved eight studio album, Disintegration (1980), as the second song of the night at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The audience greeted the song’s familiar and enticing melody with glee, and everyone readily indulged in its earnest sincerity.
Watch the official music video for “Pictures of You” by The Cure on YouTube:
Soon again, Robert traded between the camps of having and holding and losing. In another early selection, The Cure played “Burn,” a rarely performed song that appears on their Join the Dots: B-Sides and Rarities. The Cure originally recorded the number for the soundtrack to The Crow (1994), and the song fell on the side of pain and loss. (Many Cure diehards cited the selection of “Burn” as a concert highlight.) But then, The Cure turned it around and added “Lovesong” to the setlist. And again, we are “home again” and “fun again” and happy in our love.
Clearly, The Cure understood the power of Disintegration and its upbeat notes in their placing much of the album’s music throughout the set. Among Cure albums, Disintegration dominated with seven tracks through a total of 29 songs across the nearly three-hour-long performance.
The Cure ambled through a leisurely 15-song first set, picking up another rarity, “Push” from The Head on the Door (1985), another star album of the night. And a few songs later, the band performed “A Forest” from second album Seventeen Seconds (1980) — a song that many consider The Cure’s very best.
An interlude, or first encore, followed, and it consisted of five songs, including “Plainsong,” “Prayers for Rain,” and the title track of Disintegration, again granting the album a special place in the evening’s proceedings. The Cure then broke to return for a second set, or perhaps a second encore depending on how you measure these things. The band performed nine additional songs, and here they weren’t afraid to honor their status as pop chart heroes of the alternative music crowd. They gave more love to Disintegration, notably performing “Fascination Street,” a favorite that has made only six appearances on The Cure’s setlist so far in 2023.
Watch the official music video for “Fascination Street” by The Cure on YouTube:
The Cure kept delivering the hits in the concert’s finale — the peppy “Friday, I’m in Love” from 1992’s Wish as well as the hyper vaudevillian “Why Can’t I Be You?” and the instantly recognizable and always welcome “Just Like Heaven,” both from 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. And of course the band closed the show finally with the 1979 single “Boys Don’t Cry,” a necessity.
Our metaphysical conversations about love and fear may miss the point. At Merriweather Post Pavilion, Robert and the band were in very good humor. The powerful Simon Gallup, who has played bass beside Robert since 1979 minus a few years in an early hiatus, approached the concert as if he were a footballer, moving up and down the stage as if it were a field and regularly kicking winning basslines into our ears. Drummer Jason Cooper shook with incredible energy from the back of the stage, and keyboardists Roger O’Donnell and Perry Bamonte (the latter also occasionally on guitar) distinguished themselves with style and panache. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels, whom I still identify as a collaborator of the late David Bowie, grounded the live wires around him with presence and patience.
And Robert? Robert approached the evening with a sense of adventure and curiosity, initially roaming the stage, accepting presents, and acknowledging as much as possible the entire audience from a distance at the very start of the show. At the end of the show, Robert addressed the audience directly: “Thank you! I will see you again. That was fucking great.”
Robert Smith is no mystery. He’s simply a damn good human being.
Here are some photos of The Cure performing at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 25, 2023. All pictures by Mickey McCarter.