The Cure Live Vivid Festival review (Sydney Opera House)

This year of our Lord 2019, marks the 40thAnniversary of the release of the debut album by the seminal English gothic rock band, The Cure. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the release of their album, Disintegration, which they were invited to the Opera House on May 24 to celebrate by playing live in full as part of the Vivid Festival.

This landmark year for the band also saw them inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame (an amusing TV interview with singer Robert Smith at the event went viral). They’ve also begun recording their first album since 4:13 Dream in 2008.

Disintegration was The Cure’s most popular album at the time of release and it has remained relevant with Rolling Stone, for example, rating it #326 on their Greatest Albums of all Time list.

Something of a “back to the future” album, Disintegration saw the band return to the darkness of the Pornography album, after introducing more pop elements in the mid-’80s. They had, of course, released numerous pop singles such as The Love Cats (1983) all along, but Disintegration was a deliberate return to the void – lots of heavy bass lines, doom laden synths, walls of guitar and desolation. The hits Lovesong, Pictures of You and Lullaby were a dose of sugar to help the medicine go down.

The Concert Hall was kept waiting for 25 minutes or so for The Cure to begin. Enough time for everyone to properly take in the atmosphere – lights down low, fog machine on overtime and an almost over the top stage set with imitation spider webs draped over amps, an odd video on loop behind the stage and an audio tape of heavy rainfall.

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The fans knew they were going to be greeted by Plainsong, the opening track on Disintegration, but they didn’t know they were going to be drenched in blinding white light as the opening tones enveloped us. It was a fantastic beginning and somewhat warmer than the recorded version, as were a number of the more icy, synth-driven songs on the album and Smith’s vocals were rich and clear throughout. We could easily make out the lyrics.

Song number three Closedown was another standout. The bass went right through you. It was the epitome of gothic rock. Outside of their sweeter hits, it’s songs like this that make The Cure special.

Last Dance was another that was an improvement on the recorded version. There was more oomph in the bass compared to the relatively lacklustre and tinny recorded version. It could do with another remastering. The audience went ape of Lullaby and rightfully so. It’s one of the best songs anyone has ever written and doubtless the band could play it in their sleep after so many years. I don’t think this performance of Lullaby however matched the versions of a handful of other songs we heard. The visuals behind the band featuring an especially ugly spider were a nice touch. It worked big-time on an arachnophobe like me.

Prayers for Rain was the highlight of the evening along with Plainsong. Smith’s final desperate cry of “prayers for rain” was like nothing I’ve ever heard from him before. Disintegration was well delivered but the song needs another dimension. Smith wasn’t happy with their performance of penultimate Disintegration tune Homesick. Evidently it is a tune the band doesn’t often play but it was more than fine on the night. Album closer Untitled ended the first half of the show in a suitably melodramatic fashion.

The show was billed as a celebration of the album Disintegration, with the band set to play the album in full as well as “rarely performed B-sides plus specially curated deep catalogue cuts after each performance of Disintegration”. These promises are usually bollocks but that is exactly what we got on May 24 and not everyone was happy about it. I overheard two punters complaining about not hearing The Love Cats or Friday, I’m in Love.

I had never heard any of the second half the set before which began with what Smith described as “two instrumental demos that didn’t make the album”. The first of which was excellent, very atmospheric and the band was tight as a drum as they were the entire night.

Fear of Ghosts was the B-side of the Lovesong single and the performance of it here outshone that A-side. It’s a stunning song and Smith’s guitar lines were exquisite. Delirious Night was another from the Disintegration sessions that was left on the cutting room floor. It was bloody fantastic with a furious, pummelling rhythm that became trance inducing, especially with the accompanying psychedelic visuals.

The show ended rather abruptly with a version of a song called Pirate Ships that Smith recorded solo “for something or other”. It was quite different to the rest of the show and rather like a sad sea shanty.

The Cure’s first Opera House performance at Vivid in celebration of the Disintegration album was exactly that. With the added B-sides and rarities and Smith’s commentary it gave the audience an insight into the creation of a classic album by a legendary band.

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