The Cure review – 'A free approach to 45 songs proves numbing'

They can play for hours, settling into dense, swirling grooves without exhausting their hits, but this show needs a greater sense of momentum

"Show your hands if you're wearing black nail varnish," commands XFM presenter Jon Holmes, introducing the first of the Cure's two Teenage Cancer Trust shows. When a surprising number of arms shoot upward, he sighs: "Forty-year-olds in black nail varnish. That's scary." But not as scary, we soon discover, as Robert Smith in full fig: big-screen closeups reveal that the 54-year-old frontman has acquired a passing resemblance to Gene Simmons of Kiss, which seems fitting: both the Cure and Kiss are fan bands these days, mining catalogues so extensive that they could tour for the rest of their days without repeating themselves too often.

The Cure, however, would benefit from heeding the Simmons dictum: "Rock is about grabbing people's attention." They may be able to play for more than three hours without exhausting their hits, but they've yet to work out how to build up a show: song follows song – an incredible 45 in all – but there are few peaks or teasers, let alone much of the fraught darkness that got them here in the first place.

Though they hit the ground running with swampy, bass-drenched versions of Plainsong, A Night Like This and the joyous release of In Between Days, the momentum trundles to a halt. Once settled into their dense, swirling groove, they stay there for the rest of the night, with occasional diversions into the sunny uplands of Friday I'm in Love, The Walk and The Lovecats. It's numbing, even though Smith's voice still quavers affectingly and B-sides such as Harold and Joe get their first airing in decades. But then, there's no new album, and the last, 4:13 Dream, is mostly overlooked tonight, which gives them licence to do what they like. Condensed into 90 minutes, though, this would have been one of the gigs of the year.

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Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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