As 40th birthday celebrations go, they don’t come much more lavish than hosting an all-singing, all-dancing jamboree in London’s Hyde Park to 65,000 revellers. Basking in the glorious sunshine as temperatures soared to a sizzling thirty-one degrees. This was anything but an overcast shroud of grey to reflect the misery The Cure (wrongly) find themselves associated with.
Having curated this year’s Meltdown event at the Southbank Centre last month, founder member Robert Smith put together another impeccable line up for AEG’s annual British Summer Time extravaganza. Featuring former and current touring partners Ride and The Twilight Sad alongside the likes of Slowdive, Editors, Goldfrapp, Interpol and of course his own band as part of a flawless bill unrivalled anywhere else this summer. Hyde Park was the only place to be today. Spread across three stages; it’s two main ones situated at opposite ends of the park’s vast open spaces while a third takes the form of a tiny bandstand hidden away in the far corner by the south entrance.
Of course the big question on many people’s lips twenty-four hours earlier revolved around whether a certain football match would be broadcast on the many screens handily placed around the park. Then when the organisers announced on Friday evening that it wouldn’t be shown, if that would impact on numbers for those scheduled to perform in the early part of the day. Some of the bands had expressed their concerns on social media in the days leading up to the event. However, judging by the enormous crowd that greets Slowdive’s arrival on stage just twenty minutes before kick off time, England’s homecoming can wait although bass player Nick Chaplin is sporting a nifty ‘World In Motion’ t-shirt.
Playing against a picturesque woodland backdrop, the five-piece make for an exquisite and soothing entrée for those arriving early. Last year’s self-titled fourth album announced their re-emergence in style and it’s the songs aired from that which soar spectacularly on this glorious afternoon. ‘Slomo’ kickstarts the set in radiant fashion while the energetic ‘Star Roving’ and dreamy ‘Sugar For The Pill’ bookend ‘Souvlaki Space Station’’s opulent skyscraping beauty. With time schedules tight their set is much shorter than normal as a buoyant ‘When The Sun Hits’ soundtracks their departure.
Next up it’s the turn of Editors, a band whose career path has followed a similar trajectory to that of The Cure. Nevertheless, this year’s ‘Violence’ long player is up there with the band’s finest works to date and rather than just play “the hits”, they show it due reverence by beginning and ending their set with two of its most potent numbers (‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Magazine’). In between it’s a case of business as usual with 2005’s breakthrough single ‘Munich’ unsurprisingly drawing the biggest response out front.
Over yonder on the north side of the park, The Twilight Sad are playing to a healthily large crowd of their own. Currently celebrating their own fifteenth anniversary as a band, their forty minutes long set is as captivating as it gets. Overwrought with intensity and at times emotionally overwhelming, they’ve blossomed into something of a national institution, albeit one situated north of the border. Frontman James Graham demands our attention and receives it for the entire duration of his band’s set. Two new songs ‘VTR’ and ‘The Arbor’ find themselves unapologetically delivered in the early part of the set. Musically taut in an industrialized way that sounds like northern Britain from the early 1980s. Both destined to be live (and hopefully recorded) favourites before long. Closing with a version of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ in memory of the late Scott Hutchison that’s both unsettling yet cathartic. They’re an undisputed highlight and one whose audience will surely have grown tenfold in its own right based on today’s performance.
Alison Goldfrapp’s sparkling mix of motorik beat driven electronica and eccentric cabaret makes for a welcome diversion from the effect laden guitar overload and in powerful renditions of ‘Train’ and ‘Strict Machine’, reminds us all too clearly why we fell in love with ‘Black Cherry’ many moons ago. Texan post-rock outfit This Will Destroy You also drag a sizeable crowd away from the main stages, their blistering sonic assault taking the decibel count up several notches over on the Summer (third) Stage bandstand.
Back in the main arena, Interpol come dressed for the occasion. Resplendent in matching suits, the suave and sophisticated five-piece play a set that sees a welcome return for some of the lesser played numbers in their extensive canon. Most notably the inclusion of ‘Rest My Chemistry’ from 2007’s often overlooked ‘Our Love To Admire’. Looking every bit excited to be here as we are to be in their presence, Interpol leave the chat to a minimum bar the odd thank you. Instead letting their songs do the talking throughout what turns out to be a very polished set. ‘Roland’ and ‘The New’ take us back to their debut, still widely regarded as the finest of the 21st century. While the more recent likes of ‘Lights’, ‘All The Rage Back Home’ and new single ‘The Rover’ remind us in equal measure why they’re anything but a spent force just yet.
Which brings us onto tonight’s headliners. The reason why 65,000 people have made the pilgrimage to Hyde Park, many from various corners of the globe. Today marks forty years to the day since Robert Smith and co played their first show as The Cure, and while the personnel has changed several times over the years, this evening’s incarnation of the band puts on a display that’s as good as anything we’ve seen from the band over the course of their glittering career.
The Cure’s influence can be seen and heard in every single one of today’s supporting cast, from the effervescent beauty of Slowdive and Ride (who we sadly miss due to stage logistics and time scheduling) to Goldfrapp’s clever pop interpretations or The Twilight Sad’s brute force. Indeed it would be difficult to name many credible artist from the past four decades that haven’t been inspired by this band, and for the next blissful two-and-a-half hours, those anniversary celebrations take on a whole new meaning.
With tonight’s curfew meaning a shortened set by Smith and band’s usual standards, not every album or era is covered. It probably won’t come as that much of a surprise that only one song (2004’s ‘The End Of The World’) is aired off their last four albums combined. Perhaps more eye opening is the lack of any material from ‘Faith’ and ‘Pornography’, both widely acclaimed by fans and critics alike since their respective releases over three-and-a-half decades ago.
However, minor gripe aside, The Cure’s performance this evening is nothing short of sensational. A masterclass executed with the panache and grace of a band still at the top of their game. Songs from ‘Disintegration’ melt effortlessly into poppier numbers like ‘High’ and ‘A Night Like This’. While post-punk classics ‘A Forest’ and ‘Play For Today’ take us back to a time when The Cure were as popular on student turntables as The Bee Gees and Abba. Backed admirably by bass player Simon Gallup – the band’s longest serving member bar Smith himself – alongside the equally familiar Jason Cooper on drums and Roger O’Donnell on keyboards. Even second guitarist Reeves Gabrels, their most recent addition to the ranks having only been a full time member since 2012 has grown into being part of The Cure’s extended family very quickly. Each an important part of the jigsaw not just here, but if there’s any truth in Smith’s recent comments about going back into be the studio, in the future too.
So when ‘Disintegration’ brings the first set to a close in harrowing fashion, pulling down the curtain on one of the band’s many personas, it’s time for Smith to welcome in another during the first of two encores. Delving exclusively from some of their biggest ever chart bothering hits, the skewered couplet of ‘Lullaby’ and ‘The Caterpillar’ quite possibly the most awkwardly bonkers sounding top ten hits we can think of in the chequered history of pop. ‘Friday I’m In Love’ gets an airing even though it’s Saturday while ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’, another massive selling hit from 1987’s ambitious double album ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ sounds surprisingly fresh given its age.
For the second encore, Smith goes even further back to a time when The Cure were still considered a punk band and actually dropped by their first label, Hansa. Early singles ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘Jumping Someone Else’s Train’ and ‘Killing An Arab’ find themselves delivered with the spite and cutting angst of a spotty faced teenager while first album tracks ‘Grinding Halt’ and ’10:15 Saturday Night’, played at – yes, you guessed it. Precisely 10:15 – show a playful side that suggests they’re proud of even the most youthful elements of their back catalogue.
And so they should be. At the end, each of Hyde Park’s neon screens displays a message: ”Thank you for coming, you were just like a dream.”
No, thank you Robert. The pleasure was all ours.