Fans of The Cure are a passionate bunch that will support essentially anything that they do, but even critics lauded the two-plus-hour-long set that the band delivered at 2011’s Bestival in Wight, England. Robert Smith and Co. have been around in various lineups for 35 years now, so they’ve certainly got the catalog (not to mention the hits) to justify a massive live show. Now, for those of us not able to make it to the UK for such a spectacle, The Cure are releasing a recording of that set, making it their first live album since 1993’s duo of Paris and Show (and their first live LP consisting of a full-length set). The result is everything you’d expect: The group sounds much like they do on albums dating back decades, the sound quality is extremely crisp, and the double-disc set length covers almost every base you could hope for. Plus, buying this live album will put all the profits in the coffers of The Isle of Wight Youth Trust (a counseling/support network for young people on the Isle of Wight), so you’ll be doing a good thing while you jam out to “The Love Cats”.
From the outset, Bestival Live is clearly aimed at the fans, but it could be a great way to hook new ones. While the thought of listening through a double album in one sitting may be a foreign concept in this day and age, this setlist was one crafted to flow throughout, so you can easily find yourself passing an hour or so without having realized. The night opened with “Plainsong” off of ’89’s Disintegration, a lush, sprawling gem full of spacey synths and wind chimes. Smith’s lovelorn, emotive delivery comes across just as strong as it always has.
As all of the thick, tenuous energy of the set’s opener pulses away, Smith leads the group through a sequence of more upbeat tracks (always relative in the world of The Cure). The coupling of “Lovesong” and “Just Like Heaven” early on is a stunning one-two punch, the former receiving a huge ovation from the crowd as the final guitar strike fades out. The latter is also audibly a fan favorite, the first chords ringing out to wild applause. Smith’s slippery lyrics about “spinning on that dizzy edge” just before he kisses her face are universal and sweet, just like his quick “thank you” as the track closes. This recording toes that very line perfectly, including just the right amount of audience response to keep the energy intact, but mixing it low enough that it doesn’t distract from the performance.
By the time things get around to “Friday I’m in Love”, the set is in full swing. Smith’s voice crackles and groans into the high notes, his cataloging of the progress of the week sounding as fresh and passionate as always. It’s impossible not to keep going to that comparison with such a career-spanning set from a band that has been around so long and has so many well-loved songs. The energy in the smoother, terser songs feels so refreshingly unchanged, the drums rollicking and sweeping underneath Smith’s strong presence. Conversely, the moody (again, relatively for The Cure) intro to “A Forest” chills and hangs just long enough before clicking into shape, one of the band’s best songs unfolding over an exquisite six or so minutes, helping to close out the disc on a theatrical, sprawling note.
A momentary tuning break signals the beginning of disc two before kicking into some of the band’s newer, less-revered material. Even on those new, less-than-legendary tracks, the band sounds tightly controlled, confident, and the cheering crowd is ecstatic to be hearing the living legends, no matter what era the material comes from. That said, the hits are still the hits, and the first encore draws the best reaction, and rightly so, as it features perhaps the band’s best songs. “The Lovecats” deservedly gets the biggest applause, its slinky bass, guitar licks (including one so cat-like that it gets a chuckle out of Smith), and stomping piano entirely spot-on. The whole crowd sings along with the epic pop hook, every single “ba ba ba ba” of it. The adorable, proto-Architecture in Helsinki (seriously, this song must be the sole inspiration for that band) “Close to Me” kicks just about as hard, the synths charming and twirling.
Encore two packages some of the earlier material, again finding The Cure sketching out a perfect atmosphere. The whole set comes crashing down on closer “Killing Another”, a cosmetically altered take on their Camus-inspired early gem “Killing an Arab”. Guitars clang, swimming through seas of reverb, bass hums, and throttles, as Smith caterwauls over the top. This is prime Cure material done perfectly (not even that weary lyric change can crush the spirit of such a massive song). When Smith says that “we’ve run out of time, but we’ll see you again” and that he hopes “you have a fucking wonderful Sunday” as the feedback wails, he sounds rather convincing. This collection captures a beautiful set from a legendary group that remains vibrant and continues to look forward into the future. What’s more, the profits go directly to a good cause. Really, what’s not to like?
Essential Tracks: “The Lovecats”, “Close to Me”, “A Forest”, and “Just Like Heaven”