Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Cure / 65daysofstatic - Live 2008.05.19 Starlight Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri

Two concerts by two of my favorite bands in the space of a week? Has the moon collided into the earth? Just wait until September... things will get ever more incredible then. Just wait. Trust me. Anyway...

Band: The Cure
Venue: Starlight Theatre
City: Kansas City, Missouri
Date: 19 May 2008
Opening Act: 65daysofstatic

Setlist (thanks to j at curefans.com):
01. Underneath the Stars
02. Pictures of You
03. A Night Like This
04. The Walk
05. The End of the World
06. Lovesong
07. To Wish Impossible Things
08. Lullaby
09. Hot Hot Hot
10. The Only One
11. From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
12. A Strange Day
13. Push
14. Friday I'm in Love
15. In Between Days
16. Just Like Heaven
17. Primary
18. Shake Dog Shake
19. Never Enough
20. The Perfect Boy
21. Wrong Number
22. One Hundred Years
22. Baby Rag Dog Book [Edit 2008.12.27: Later renamed "It's Over"]

Encore 1:
23. If Only Tonight We Could Sleep
24. The Kiss

Encore 2:
25. Boys Don't Cry
26. Jumping Someone Else's Train
27. Grinding Halt
28. 10:15 Saturday Night
29. Killing an Arab

Well, this was an interesting show. First, the openers. 65daysofstatic is an appropriate name. The band is a loud, heavy-sounding instrumental rock quartet. They played six or seven songs in half an hour. They relied on an onstage keyboard for backing tracks comprised of some keyboard effects and extra percussion, but half the time I couldn't find it in the mix in light of two thick guitars, a bass, and a complex drummer. If they could have taken down a notch, I might have liked it, but as it was it all came as something of a loud, distorted crash more often than not. There was one song that started with a some guitar notes that would have sounded completely at home on the Cure's Pornography, which made me wonder if that was why the Cure brought them along, other than also being English. Anyway, they weren't bad.

Another forty minutes after the 65daysofstatic left the stage, the Cure finally walked on. Now, I already had my doubts. I was really excited anyway, but this is a 30-year-old band who has had continual line-up changes, and their latest left them without a keyboardist. The Cure today is a four-piece, the first time since a brief period in 1990. Robert Smith is the only original member, still playing guitar and singing. (You might not think of Robbie as much of a guitarist, but honestly, he does half the solos and can pull off some great sounds.) Simon Gallup is the longest-surviving member next to Robert; he's been playing bass since 1979 with only a three year absence in the 80s. (Unfortunately, Simon has cut his wild hair - his used to rival Robert's.) Porl Thompson is technically a founding member but was dropped before the first album was cut. He came back in the 80s and left in the 90s, only to return in 2005. He just stuck to his guitar at the show, but historically he has done some sax and keyboards, too. Lastly is Jason Cooper, drummer since 1995. I know little beyond that. He does the job well, though.

So anyway, you may notice that the Cure, best known as an 80s new wave band, does not tour with a keyboardist. 80s new wave practically requires keyboards, but whatever. The band actually did a decent job of filling the holes, but sometimes you really could feel the absence. On some songs, Porl would just play a high guitar line to mimic the melodies normally done on keyboard (such as with "Lullaby" and "The Walk"), and on others, Porl or Robert would just strum along to where the keyboard chords would be (such as "Lovesong"). I noticed that "The Walk" and "Pictures of You" both had backing tracks to add some extra percussion and some keyboard effects. Things got a bit more obvious when there were not enough musicians to go around: the consistent piano in "A Night Like This" was conspicuously unaccounted for, and the high keyboard line in the bridges of "Just Like Heaven" was only played the first time, since after that Porl was busy playing the normal descending guitar riff and Robert handled the rhythm. To be fair, they managed pretty well without. I look for the minor change-ups and thus noticed every alteration, but I would guess most people hardly noticed. I should state, though, that the rockin' four-piece setup worked really well for the encore material. More on that later.

My second complaint was that the audio mix to me sounded pretty poor. For what must be the first time I have ever witnessed at a concert, the bass guitar was actually too high in the mix. It dominated the frequencies. Although the opener was mixed well, "Pictures of You" was basically a drum-and-bass song to my ears. Although things improved a bit as the show went on, I still had a hard time hearing the guitars – Porl's usually just sounded like white noise and if Robert played acoustic, he was lost in the mix. I think it may have been my seat – you would think straight in the middle, all the way back would be pretty good, but since other reviews and comments I have seen did not echo my concerns about the mix (and in fact complimented it), I suspect my seat is to blame. Either way, it lessened my personal experience.

My third complaint is the only real one. Unfortunately, Robert Smith was quite sick and was barely able to sing. Sometimes he could pull it off, but most of the time, he couldn't hit high notes or sustain. Quite a pity, really. He apologized profusely, and even said at one point, "Believe me, I'm suffering more than you are... which is how it should be!" He later said it was either what we got or nothing, and he figured it was better to at least play the songs and let us sing along. I agree. Robert's voice problems did make "One Hundred Years" and "Killing an Arab" a bit more interesting, as during the final choruses of those two, he started coarsely screaming the lyrics. It really made the latter especially a bit more intense. I'm glad that the show did go on and that Robert gave his best anyway – I could tell he was struggling but still trying. His bandmates were totally still into it, though – Simon was jumping all over his side of the stage.

The setlist they played was quite fantastic. The choice of songs was great – the only things I wished I could have heard were "The Lovecats" or "Kyoto Song" or maybe "How Beautiful You Are". I know the latter two are only occasionally performed, but the former one quite often is in encores. In fact, they may have intended to play it, but if you compare the list of what was actually played to other nights from the tour, you will notice that this is the only one so far to only have two encores. I can not blame Robert for skipping one, but it did mean we missed out on some classic material.

They opened with a new song – Wikipedia claims this song to be titled "Underneath the Stars", but this is quite unconfirmed as of yet. I did rather like it. They also did their new single, "The Only One", and the future album track "The Perfect Boy", both of which were okay enough. They closed the main set with another new song, quite distorted and a bit choppy, if I remember right. I have no information about that one. [Edit 2008.12.27: "Underneath the Stars" is the correct title, and the recorded version is one of the best songs on the new album (4:13 Dream). The other new song that I didn't know the name of at the title was known as "Baby Rag Dog Book" but was recorded as "It's Over". That song and the other two new ones are also on the new album.]

Some songs had pictures displayed on the backdrop ("Lovesong" had the single cover, "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea" had a cloud scene), others had animations ("Lullaby" had a spider moving about, "Just Like Heaven" had some hearts like those on the single cover flitting about). "Shake Dog Shake" had what I think was live video, not unlike Radiohead's rig, but it was the only song with such a treat. The lighting was typical concert fare, nothing too unusual.

"To Wish Impossible Things" and "Push" were both surprises that I appreciated – they were two of the best-sounding, too. "Primary" rocked, but I think instead of the recording's dual-bass setup, Robert played his part on guitar... I could not tell from my distance; he may have been using six-string bass.

The first encore was pretty good – it was just two songs off "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me", but both were pulled off well. The highlight to me was the second encore – five songs from Boys Don't Cry / Three Imaginary Boys. I would've loved "Fire in Cairo" or "Three Imaginary Boys" itself, but what they did was plenty good as it is. "Jumping Someone Else's Train" rocked (and it featured the video that Tim Pope made for it back in 1986!), and then as it ended they segued right into "Grinding Halt", and even though that may not have been quite as cool as when they used to charge into "Another Journey by Train", it worked well. And then "10.15 Saturday Night"! That was great, and it was followed by "Killing an Arab", which was one of the best of the night.

So, even if the mix was off, there weren't any keyboards, and Robert was not in top form, they still tried their best, and it was a lot of fun. I retain a positive attitude about it even if my review focuses more on the negative. It was good, but since it wasn't as perfect as I think it could be, it does make me want to catch them the next time they come through to hope for something a little better. I guess I had high expectations and I was a little bit let down, but they did the best they could given the circumstances.

[Retrospective Scores:
The Cure: D+
65daysofstatic: C-]

[Note (2014.06.04): This review was originally published with a general score of B-. I have no idea why I was so generous at the time, because there's no way I could deny, then or now, that the show was disappointing and thus deserved a D. The plus is because they did their best to make the most of it.]

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