Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Cure / The Twilight Sad - Live 2016.05.13 Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

Artist: The Cure
Venue: Frank Erwin Center
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 13 Friday 2016
Opening Act: The Twilight Sad

The Twlight Sad's setlist (thanks to here):
1. There's a Girl in the Corner
2. Last January
3. I Became a Prostitute
4. I Could Give You All That You Don't Want
5. Cold Days From the Birdhouse
6. It Never Was the Same
7. And She Would Darken the Memory

The Cure's setlist:
01. Out of This World
02. Pictures of You
03. Closedown
04. A Night Like This
05. All I Want
06. Push
07. Last Dance
08. Lovesong
09. Just Like Heaven
10. This Twilight Garden
11. Lullaby
12. Fascination Street
13. Screw
14. The End of the World
15. Want
16. Us or Them
17. The Hungry Ghost
18. Prayers for Rain
19. Bloodflowers

Encore 1:
20. Step Into the Light
21. Shake Dog Shake
22. Never Enough
23. Wrong Number

Encore 2:
24. Hot Hot Hot!!!
25. Close to Me
26. The Exploding Boy
27. In Between Days
28. Doing the Unstuck
29. Friday I'm in Love

Encore 3:
30. Burn
31. It Can Never Be the Same

Encore 4:
32. A Forest
33. Boys Don't Cry

The Twilight Sad are a Scottish band merging post-punk roots inspired by the likes of The Cure with a more contemporary indie rock sound and effects-laden guitar straight from the shoegazing canon. Despite the scheduled set time of 7:30pm (already fairly early), they actually went on ten minutes early. That was a first for me. I liked the keyboards and vocals, and the guitar was great, but the drums were loud and overpowered the other instruments, especially the bass. This could have just been a product of where I was sitting, but it worked against them. On the slower and more open sections where the drums were less intense, the rest of the instruments became much clearer and distinct, which made me wish they all sounded like that. I had trouble understanding the vocalist, but I still liked the general direction of the songs. Robert Smith has made his fondness of the band well-known, and it's easy to understand why.

[The Cure.]

I've seen The Cure twice before: a disappointing show during 2008 in Kansas City when Robert Smith was sick, and a better, albeit abbreviated, headlining set at Austin City Limits Festival in 2013. This time, my expectations were tempered by my previous experiences, but I was still hoping for a solid, full set to make up for those shortcomings.

As usual, the setlist was a mix of material from throughout their long history, but most biased towards their most popular and critically acclaimed era, spanning roughly 1985 through 1989 (i.e., The Head on the Door; Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me; and Disintegration). They don't play much from their last two albums or their somewhat maligned Wild Mood Swings from 1996, but the songs they do pick from those tend to be the same choices every time, and it speaks plenty about the mediocrity of the production of those albums that the songs in question sound much better when performed live. "The End of the World" was never a very good song, but "Want" and "The Hungry Ghost" actually fit right in with the rest of the material. Even "Us or Them" turned out decently.

Otherwise, they consistently do a great job of appeasing both casual and diehard fans. They played just about all of their big hits, but they also played a wealth of deep album cuts ("Closedown", "All I Want", and "Screw" were somewhat unexpected delights), a few really old songs ("Shake Dog Shake", "A Forest", "Boys Don't Cry"), two new songs, and even two b-sides. Other special treats were "Burn", a grand, looming song from the soundtrack of The Crow, and two superior cuts from Bloodflowers, their last great album. I could always ask for more of the really old material, but they played so many great songs, including a lot of surprising choices, that it wouldn't be fair to complain about the setlist. It is kind of ridiculous that they played over half the songs from Disintegration, but I doubt anyone is going to argue about that.

Both of the b-sides were excellent songs that sometimes make one wonder how songs that good could end up left as flipsides. "This Twilight Garden", a b-side of "High" from 1992, is a dreamy, darkly pretty song that was better than half of the songs that actually were on Wish, and "The Exploding Boy", a b-side of "In Between Days" from 1985, is an uptempo number that is almost as good as the a-side. These are the type of songs that make Join the Dots (the b-sides and rarities collection from 2004) worth owning.

Both new songs were reasonably good, if not outstanding. "Step Into the Light" was somewhat by the numbers, but "It Can Never Be the Same" was more sprawling and had more depth to it. I'm curious if these are from the large set of unfinished songs from the 4:13 Dream sessions or if they are more recent compositions. More importantly, does this imply that The Cure are finally readying a new album for release? (It's only been eight years!)

I'm glad that The Cure tour as a five-piece again. The Cure without a keyboardist isn't really The Cure (unless they are playing Three Imaginary Boys), and Roger O'Donnell has proven himself an integral member of the band, so I'm glad he is back in the fold. However, Reeves Gabrels still strikes me as an unsuitable replacement for Porl/Pearl Thompson. Reeves' guitarwork is too flashy and aggressive for The Cure; these songs demand melody, grace, subtlety, and careful tonality, not blazing, roaring solos. When Reeves played the songs by the numbers, they worked fine, but when he stepped out into his own ground, such as in "Wrong Number" or the solo in "A Night Like This", the songs suffered from his showmanship. "Shake Dog Shake" and "Never Enough" fared somewhat better; his wild abandon mostly worked with the unrestrained energy of both songs.

Drummer Jason Cooper tends to be overlooked, but he plays the parts of his predecessor drummers with effortless ease. All of the little drum flourishes of "Prayers for Rain" were right where they should be, and the toms-heavy parts of songs like "Closedown" were right on the mark. Similarly, it can also be easy to forget that Simon Gallup's bass contributions are fundamental to the sound of the band, but on stage, he was visibly driving every single song. His bass was pleasantly prominent without being overwhelming, and he was also the only member that really moved around on stage much.

Robert Smith's instrumental work is as solid as ever, and he still took a few solos, such as in "Lovesong", "Prayers for Rain", and "A Forest". He even brought out a flute for the intro to "Burn". His vocals aren't quite what they once were, but he mostly avoided the squealing, yelping style that has characterized the last two albums, the re-recorded vocals on some of the demos on the older album reissues, and the last Cure concert I saw. Actually, this was probably the best vocal performance I've heard from him in a long time. The only noticeably weak moment was at the end of "In Between Days", when it became obvious that Robert couldn't hit the final notes of the "without you" line in the higher octave. He didn't even try and instead sung them in the lower range used for the rest of the song.

[What a great way to waste electricity during the encore break.]

It's amazing that the Cure can still sell out stadiums despite not having released an album in eight years, and it's not like their last two albums were particularly good, either. I suppose the fact that they have enough strong back-catalog material to play incredibly long sets that vary significantly from night to night is probably a big part of their draw. It certainly worked for me. Even with a few weak songs and the occasionally indulgent guitarwork from Gabrels, this was the Cure concert I wish I'd seen back in 2008.

The Twilight Sad: B-
The Cure: A-

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