The Cure at Glastonbury 2019 review – still the world's most reluctant pop stars

Pyramid stage
Robert Smith’s band of goth-pop veterans focus on their imperial phase: a catalogue that can’t help but be anthemic

There’s a sense in which the Cure’s performance is the opposite of every other headline performance on the Pyramid stage this weekend. There’s no special guests, not much in the way of explosive special effects and there’s no attendant sense of can they do this – or how will this work?

It’s been 41 years since they started plying fretful suburban melancholy and rainy Sunday afternoon ennui: the first time they headlined Glastonbury was some years before a considerable portion of this year’s attendees were born. These days, they release albums so infrequently that huge – and incredibly lengthy – live shows are pretty much the band’s raison d’etre. This kind of thing is tried and tested; it’s just what they do.

By the Cure’s current standards, two hours constitutes a breakneck canter through the highlights of their back catalogue. It centres on their imperial phase, bookended by 1985’s The Head on the Door and 1992’s Wish, a period during which the Cure came within kissing distance of being the biggest band in the world, while somehow managing to retain a certain outsider status: Pictures of You, A Night Like This, Love Song, Never Enough, In Between Days.

The Cure on the Pyramid Stage.
The Cure on the Pyramid stage. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Listening to them play, you’re struck by the fact that they pulled off the trick of traversing a huge musical distance – from the taut post-punk of A Forest to the diseased-sounding psychedelia of Shake Dog Shake to the selection of more-or-less pure pop tracks that forms the set’s final 30 minutes – while always sounding exactly like the Cure. For all the dark power of the tracks they play from Disintegration, the latter proves their highlight of the show, partly because it’s unexpected. You get the sense that Robert Smith has quite a complex relationship with the most commercial end of his oeuvre – he exits the stage for two minutes “to get my pop head on” before it begins and explains that they’re only doing it because “it’s Glastonbury” – but there’s something particularly joyous about hearing one pop smash after another: Friday I’m in Love following on the heels of Close to Me and The Caterpillar.

And something about the light tone of the material seems to infect Robert Smith himself. Not, you suspect, one of life’s natural everybody-put-your-hands-together frontmen, he nevertheless abandons his guitar and moves to the side of the stage, beneath the video screens, dancing at least a little while he sings Why Can’t I Be You? Then the man who launched a thousand teenage goth haircuts catches himself, explaining again that this isn’t normally how the Cure perform. “I hope I don’t regret doing this,” he mutters, before the band launch into the concluding Boys Don’t Cry. Judging by the audience reaction, that doesn’t seem likely.

•This article was amended on 2 July 2019 to correct the release date of the Cure’s album Wish to 1992.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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