The Cure's tour succeeds in a summer of low sales

Posted Aug. 10, 2004

Music festivals are a great invention. This journalist, for one, would highly enjoying giving the inventor of these hearty doses of music a very large, very sloppy kiss.

Shows are great, but usually you only get two or three bands, and opening bands are hit or miss. Festivals, on the other hand, sometimes offer dozens of musicians. Of course, most of these dozens are also hit or miss - but not on Curiosa, this summer's music tour put on and headlined by '80s supergroup the Cure, who just keeps on making a comeback every time you think old Robert Smith might be ready to wash off the white face paint and finally comb his hair.

With so many summer tours and festivals (eh-hem Lollapalooza) turning out half-empty venues and only mildly enthusiastic concert-goers, Curiosa is like a summer breeze on an unbearably hot day. The festival, which hit D.C. last Friday by way of Columbia, Md.'s Merriweather Post Pavilion, featured two stages - the main stage and a side stage - that rotated so that at any moment during the evening a band was always playing. The bands on the side stage, which were handpicked by the Cure, vary from city to city, while the main stage acts (Interpol, Mogwai and the Rapture) are consistent from day to day.

Head Automatica, the new project from Glassjaw frontman Daryl Palumbo, opened the festival on Friday with a rousing set of their dance-rock. The band, which was greeted with enthusiastic responses that included one guy in the crowd repeatedly yelling "Daryl, I love you," offers living proof that a formally screamo frontman - who has trained his much-abused vocal chords to rasp and growl like a sick dog - can actually produce some pretty danceable melodies.

Sets from Mogwai, the Cooper Temple Clause and the Rapture followed Head Automatica. While the still sparse audience seemed to know exactly what to do with the Cooper Temple Clause and the Rapture (bob your head and look pretentious, and dance, respectively), no one really seemed to know what to make of Mogwai, a severely talented group of stage-shy lads from Glasgow who managed to fill the amphitheatre with their strange instrumental music. Mogwai, who one would assume are often greeted with blank stare and a "what the hell is this?" response, are actually incredible musicians and their music is undeniably unique; however, their place on Curiosa may not have been the most appropriate considering many of the fans were looking for something with a little more synth beat.

The Rapture, on the other hand, melded right into the evening's theme of '80s revival. Their dance-based groove is akin to the current "it" boys Franz Ferdinand; however, the Rapture's brand of this music is absolutely more interesting than anything Franz is doing.

The Rapture's set was followed by another musician whose '90s sound seemed slightly out of place at the '80s revival fest. Auf der Mar - the solo project from ex-Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Mar - offered their lively recapitulation of '90s grunge rock in a 30-minute set that provided proof that Auf der Mar is a rocker to be reckoned with.

The subsequent sets from the Cure-indebted Interpol and U.K. rockers Muse furthered the evening's musical prowess leading up to the band everyone was actually there to see: the Cure. The Cure have been around forever. At least to someone who has only legally been allowed to drink for two months, it certainly seems like they are ancient. Not only are they wildly influential, but they are especially relevant on today's music scene where the dance-based synth pop of the '80s is being reborn by piles of bands who are gravely indebted to albums like "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" and "Disintegration."

By the time the Cure took the stage a little after 9 p.m., fans had packed into Merriweather as tightly as possible. A strange mix of younger fans, who have been introduced to the Cure through contemporaries like the Faint and Interpol, and older, diehard fans were enraptured by the almost two-hour set. It was strange because, in truth, the Cure doesn't really do much on stage. Smith, though he did offer a little hip wiggle every now and then, just stood there and let his music carry the show. And, indeed, it did carry the show. With a selection of old and new songs, many off the Cure's new album, Smith and crew created a wall of sound that was so encompassing you almost just wanted to drown yourself in it.

It is rare that a gathering of eight recognizably different bands elicit a solid, unified concert that leaves the listener thinking, "Wow, how is so much good music possible at once?" In a summer of low ticket sales and fans who would rather sit in air-conditioned living rooms with music comfortably pouring out of their stereos, the Cure should be given props for putting on such a remarkable tour. And hey, maybe next summer they'll give us an encore.

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