The Cure’s 2023 Tour Made Up for a Year of Disappointments

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The Cure 2023 tour - pic taken at Pasadena Daydream on Aug. 31, 2019

I’m disappointed in myself. Frankly, I found a lot to be disappointed about in 2023, most of which was entirely out of control. But that doesn’t leave me off the hook. Sure, I could stand to be better about getting more exercise, getting enough sleep, doomscrolling less and so on. But more than anything, I’m scolding myself for not seeing enough live music.

Back when the Covid pandemic first hit in 2020 and no performance happened without a socially distant livestream, I felt a sense of loss from what had up to that point been a huge part of my life. At my peak in the mid-2010s, I was attending somewhere between 60 and 90 individual live events per year, still short of Bob Boilen’s record (and I’m a bit younger than he is!) but a pretty hefty list of performances regardless. When that all evaporated overnight, I craved the smell of beer-sticky dive bars and that first piercing, uncomfortable reminder to put in my earplugs. I sought out archived concerts on YouTube and even watched the classic The Cure concert In Orange with my wife on our living room couch. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t take it for granted again, once lockdown actually lifted, and when we moved across the country to Richmond shortly thereafter, my first priority was to start regularly going to see live music.

Then, last year, that kind of fell apart. I had grand plans to go out regularly, but for one reason or another, that just never happened. I usually had a reason; I was sick, or traveling, or maybe just lazy (I didn’t say they were all good reasons), but I managed to catch about a dozen great shows regardless, including The Smile at The National, Baroness at Canal Club, Unwound at Irving Plaza, and The Armed at Baltimore Soundstage.

I also saw The Cure.

My first time seeing The Cure took place in fall of 2019 at the Pasadena Daydream festival that Robert Smith curated, featuring other heavyweights such as Pixies, Deftones, Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle. And 11 years past their last studio recordings, and 30 years after the release of their gothic rock masterpiece Disintegration, they put on one of the best live performances I’d ever seen, in large part simply because their body of work is so strong that they could play literally anything—b-sides, outtakes, “Carnage Visors”—and it would be at least 90 percent amazing. Yet for a group who pioneered a fashionable kind of gloom over four decades ago, and whose intervals between tours grow a little longer each time, The Cure never halted their commitment to crafting an experience beyond nostalgia. They’re perhaps an unlikely candidate for being one of the most relevant bands performing today, in large part because they’re not releasing music in any particular hurry. And yet here they are, still giving a shit, still giving us a reason to give a shit in return.

While some of the particulars of Pasadena Daydream weren’t necessarily ideal—including the 90-degree heat and the general annoyances that come with any festival (like being near the guy trying to whistle along to “Push”)—The Cure’s performance was compelling enough to make me forget about most of that stuff, and my wife and I agreed that the next time they played anywhere near us, we’d go see them and spring for the good seats.

Mansfield, Massachusetts, where we did end up seeing The Cure nearly four years later, isn’t actually very close to us, but we would have gone even if the Ticketmaster lottery chose Anchorage as our nearest show. And in fact we did go despite the Kafkaesque experience of trying to buy concert tickets in 2023, stuck in a virtual waiting room with scalper bots for the experience to pay comically inflated fees—which Robert Smith himself(!) actually persuaded Ticketmaster to pay back to fans. In fact, for how miserable it can be to try to navigate online ticket sales for large stadium concerts, or even moderately sized theater shows, Robert Smith and The Cure advocated for fair prices and non-shady business practices in a way that we’ve seen few other large acts do, outside of Pearl Jam in the ’90s.

Seeing a successful band make the calculation that nobody has to lose—especially not the actual ticket buyers—was wonderful to see. But that’s not specifically what made The Cure my live highlight of 2023. Perhaps it was an inevitability—the promise of seeing a legendary band and an all-time favorite, a group with a huge personal significance to both me and my wife (she saw them twice before I ever had the opportunity, and she dubbed a tape of early Cure highlights for me way back in the early days of our relationship). But it’s more than that; like I said a minute or so after they wrapped up playing “Boys Don’t Cry” for the one-thousand-umpteenth time, they still got it.

It’s remarkable to consider the path they took to get here. Post-punk isn’t typically a genre that lends itself to 10,000-seat arenas, and it certainly wasn’t when they began playing scrappy punk songs in Crawley, England. But however much we associate the music of The Cure with subterranean spaces and ’80s counterculture, they’re an incredibly popular band, and they have been for a long time. Their 1986 compilation album Staring at the Sea was their first record to go platinum, which happened a few more times thereafter, and it was one of two to go double platinum. That speaks volumes about the pop appeal of the greatest goth-rock band of all time, but until they made it to their hit-filled second encore (“Friday I’m in Love”! “Close to Me”! “In Between Days”!), was how few of their songs actually play by pop music’s rules. The lion’s share of their songs, including most of their other double-platinum album Disintegration, don’t actually have choruses. They revel in the luxury of a lengthy intro, favor atmosphere over an easy hook, and three minutes hasn’t been nearly enough real estate for their own comfort for most of their career.

They played many of the hits, certainly, but the majority of their 29-song setlist comprised much of those lengthier, exploratory exercises in catharsis. Among those were “Prayers for Rain,” “Disintegration,” “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” several entirely new songs that may or may not be released this year, as well as Seventeen Seconds deep cut “At Night,” which the pair of dudes obsessively referencing in front of me didn’t seem to recognize. But that’s part of the fun of seeing a band with as deep a catalog as they have—every night’s different, with the potential for discovery.

The Cure aren’t the same band that they were in the early 1980s, and it might even be fair to say they haven’t been the same band from album to album, given how often they experimented with their sound and rotated through different players over the years. But while the spark that fueled their prolific first decade might take longer to catch fire these days—still waiting for the four albums they promised us a few years ago—they sound amazing, with a command of the stage that can only come with a career of refining their craft. Smith, now 64, is likewise in stellar vocal shape, and with a charm and characteristic silliness that occasionally cut through some of their more hypnotic dirges (“This song was number one in 160 countries!” he joked before the band started up The Head on the Door deep cut “Six Different Ways”).

I frequently feel a sense of ambivalence about shows of this size, generally because of how long it takes to get out of the parking lot, but it only took a few seconds into the intro of “Pictures of You” for deeper feelings to take over, for the experience to transcend all external distractions. I didn’t see that many shows in 2023, and I certainly didn’t see enough shows last year, but I saw The Cure. And if and when they announce their next tour, especially if it includes any songs from Pornography on the setlist, I’ll be there.


For a long time, I’ve had mixed feelings about the value of concert and live show reviews, for a pretty specific reason: They already happened. I worked for five years as the music editor of an alt-weekly in San Diego (R.I.P. CityBeat), with an eye always on the horizon toward live events that I recommended to readers. And to an extent, I still feel—especially in a local market—that there’s more value in encouraging readers to go see a show themselves, before the artist has left town and the tour’s already over. Don’t mistake me; I love reading live reviews, but sometimes, if I wasn’t there myself, doing so can be bittersweet.

But in the past year, I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about music as an experience rather than as a commercial product. So much of the discussion about music in the past few years has been about the industry, profits or lack thereof, massive catalog price tags and skyrocketing concert ticket prices, the runaway marketing success of certain social media networks and the constant need to feed the algorithm. It’s all real and valid, but that’s not why I do this. It’s the feeling of hearing a kickass band locked in and delivering their best performance, of witnessing the crowd around you singing along in unison—sometimes in key!—to a great song, of experiencing music rather than simply consuming it.

The idea isn’t to simply write a concert review every month—though I’m toying with the idea of reviewing every show I see this year and posting them on Treble’s Patreon (talk me into this or out of this if you have strong feelings one way or the other). This space will comprise a rotation of shows I’ve just seen, shows I went to in past months or years, and shows I never had the opportunity to see myself, whether they’re concert films, live albums or simply bootlegs worth a longer discussion. Music is, after all, a living thing, and while not all of it is intended for the live stage, a performance can tell us so much about the artist, their audience, their music and even ourselves in a way that recordings sometimes can’t.

In Concert will be on tour through the present and past, shows attended, seen, heard, maybe in person, maybe just vicariously, maybe even only hypothetically. See you at the merch table.

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