Better late than never, eh Cure fans?
Boy, was it ever late.
Taking a cue from their Tuesday performance in Monterrey, Robert Smith and company made their first El Paso show a memorable, and long one.
Not that I'm complaining.
They played 41 songs in 3 hours and 15 minutes before an adoring, and obviously hardcore crowd of more than 7,000 last night at the Don Haskins Center. The band plowed through it all in workmanlike fashion, touching upon all the different eras, most of the hits and more than a few obscurities in a show clearly designed to satiate the hardcoriest of fans.
It may have been a test of endurance for casual fans, the ones who were there only to hear the hits. Maybe a couple of thousand didn't make it all the way through, but the vast majority of the crowd hung in there for all three encores, which stretched a show that started at 8:15 p.m. to 11:30, p.m. that is.
The encores totaled 16 songs alone, almost a full-length set by many artists' standards.
But the Cure isn't just any band, and their hungry El Paso-Juarez-Las Cruces fans only grew more vocal in their appreciation, and their singing grew louder, as the marathon performance rolled on.
This is a curious and probably liberating time the band, which has been around in one form or another since 1976. Its '80s and '90s commercial heyday well behind it, the Smith-led group that was part of the punk and new wave explosion hasn't released an album of new material in five years, and doesn't even have a recording contract at the moment.
The group's been playing a handful of festivals for the last couple of years. One-offs like Monterrey and El Paso, sandwiched between the Cure's Oct. 5 and 12 sets at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, have been few and far between.
Festival gigs are a bit of a compromise for a band. There's a time limit, for one thing (the Cure played two hours last weekend in Austin), and they have to share an audience with the million other bands on the bill.
Not so last night. This was all Cure, all night. Even more impressive than the crowd's enduring enthusiasm — there was a lot of pent up hunger there — was the band's consistency throughout the night. That was a long show, and the dynamic range was not all that great. But somehow, through the songs and the even-keeled executive of them, they made it work.
These guys are no spring chickens. Smith, his rat's nest hair and smudgy New Romantic makeup are their 50s. Yet his bruised heart of a voice was as strong and expressive during the seven-song finale, which included the early anthem "Boys Don't Cry" and playful "The Lovecats," as he was on openers "Plainsong" and "Fascination Street."
Clearly, a love for music and a love for his longtime wife fuel the guy. He's a pretty low-key performer. He didn't venture near the lip of the stage until the 16th song of the night, "Push." He rarely said more than "thank you" after songs. He didn't grow more animated until a good two hours in, when Smith started English dancing (my term for Brits who move only from the waist up), smiling, making faces and, in general, having visible fun.
Even with such a lengthy song list, Smith and the band were able to stretch out a few songs, "A Forest" being one of the more mesmerizing examples, and pace the show with enough peaks and valleys to keep it from getting dull or one-dimensional. They had a kind of intuitive restraint that keep things from getting too high or too low.
It's a real testament to Smith's innately rhythmic, inherently melodic songwriting that despite the long time span of time between them, nothing the Cure played Thursday sounded dated or out of place. Smith sometimes gets a bad rap for being mopey, which may have been true early on, ut the guy really is a hopeless romantic with a knack for writing good well-crafted and mildly inventive love songs ("Just Like Heaven" being a strong case in point).
I stopped keeping up with the Cure a good 10 years ago, and hadn't seen them in at least 15. The show may have been a long reintroduction, but I gained a whole new appreciation for Smith, those songs and the musicians he's assembled to breathe life into them.
None was more yeomanlike than drummer Jason Cooper, who not only to kicked off many of the songs, but kept metronomic time with a tirelessly steady precision that didn't waver over the course of 195 minutes.
New recruit Reeves Gabrels, best known for his incendiary guitar work with David Bowie's Tin Machine, adds a subdued virtuosity that departed longtimer Porl Thompson didn't have. Returnee Roger O'Donnell uses his keyboard to add familiar touches and colors, while Simon Gallup's propulsive bass lines worked in lockstep with Cooper's steady beats.
Three hours and 15 minutes is a long time for any act to perform almost non-stop. Sure, it was a long show. But when you've been waiting more than 30 years to see one of your favorite bands, as no doubt many did going into Thursday night, I say better long than never.
2. "Fascination Street"
3. "A Night Like This"
5. "The End of the World"
7. "Just Like Heaven"
8. "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea"
9. "Pictures of You"
12. "Hot Hot Hot !!!"
13. "Bird Mad Girl"
14. "The Walk"
15. "Stop Dead"
17. "In Between Days"
18. "Friday I'm in Love"
19. "Doing the Unstuck"
22. "The Hungry Ghost"
23. "Wrong Number"
24. "One Hundred Years"
26. "Shake Dog Shake"
28. "The Caterpillar"
29. "Give Me It"
31. "The Baby Screams"
33. "Play for Today"
34. "A Forest"
35. "The Lovecats"
36. "Close to Me"
37. "Let's Go to Bed"
38. "Why Can't I Be You?"
39. "Boys Don't Cry"
40. "10:15 Saturday Night"
41. "Killing An Arab"