The Cure - the ultimate fantasy setlist for Malahide Castle concert
Ahead of The Cure’s sold-show on Saturday at Malahide Castle, Barry Egan imagines his dream setlist from Robert Smith's legendary band...
Saturday, we’re in love. Tomorrow night, Robert Smith will take the stage for a massive show in the home town of a band he never wanted to be like in any shape or form. In the late 1980s The Cure were being touted as the next U2. They had a number one album with Wish and played two stadium tours across America. “I was congratulated and told I was amazing whenever we went,” he said in an 2012 interview with Word magazine, “and that was the most miserable year I ever had.”
So, back to my dream set-list for the Malahide Castle show, where doubtless Mr Smith, a fella from the London suburb of Crawley, will have the least miserable night he’s ever had in Bono’s backyard.
This being a Cure show, they will play for no shorter than two hours with innumerable encores if we’re lucky. (They played four - count ‘em – four! - at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in 2016.) Anything less and their fans would feel considerably short-changed.
Just Like Heaven, from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
Boys — and girls — are probably crying when The Cure enter to the glacial magnificence of Just Like Heaven, from 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album.
His hair looks like a bird's nest - if that bird nest was from the Blair Witch tree.
His signature lipstick smudge might be put there by his wife Mary, the inspiration for the song, possibly watching from the wings. Even if his childhood sweetheart isn’t backstage, Smith will have rung her before taking the stage as is his ritual, no matter where he is the world with his group. As Smith once said: “I like to hear her say, ‘I hope it’s good.’ She always says, ‘Sing well.’”
Lovesong, from Disintegration (1989)
Smith does just that on the next song of the night Lovesong, the third single from the 1989 album Disintegration, and his alleged wedding gift to his wife. “Whenever I’m alone with you”, sings the 60 year old with his de rigeur lachrymose beauty, “you make me feel like I am young again…”. It would not be over stating it to say that at Malahide Castile 30,000 fans of all ages feel the same about Robert Smith.
Mark Beaumont in New Musical Express wrote, not inaccurately, that Lovesong is “essentially Lionel Ritchie’s Hello for people prone to hugging themselves in corners while rocking back and forth battling long-standing self-image issues. Which includes us.” While Smith said: “It’s an open show of emotion. It’s not trying to be clever. It’s taken me 10 years to reach the point where I feel comfortable singing a very straightforward love song.”
Piggy In The Mirror, from The Top (1984)
It quickly goes all dark and visceral as Smith sings Piggy In The Mirror from 1984’s album The Top. Smith peels back the thin epidermis protecting his emotions to reveal something... don’t ask me what. But lyrics, “ Shapes in the drink like Christ/Cracks in the pale blue wall”, like a lot of Robert Smith’s wordsmithery, certainly intrigue.
One Hundred Years, from Pornography (1982)
One Hundred Years - complete with the classic line, “It doesn’t matter if we all die” - from the band’s fourth and very heavy album Pornography. Any work of art, if it is any good says something profound, something uncomfortably true, about its creator.
Only a brooding genius like Robert Smith could make 30,000 goths dance and sing along to a lyric like “It doesn’t matter if we all die.” (Possibly, or possibly not, in the same way as Kurt Cobain could make his fans sing along to “Load up with guns and kill your friends.”) The words along spilling surreally out of Smith’s mouth — “Ambition in the back of a black car,” “Creeping up the stairs in the dark,” “A piece of new meat in a clean room,” “A tiger thrashing in the water” — cast a kind of spell across Malahide.
With Robert on guitar and vocals, Simon Gallup on bass, Jason Cooper on drums, Roger O'Donnell on keyboards and David Bowie's old mucker from Tin Machine, Reeves Gabrels on guitars, The Cure keep the mood then segue into another song from Pornography, The Hanging Garden. The out-of-kilter tribal drums that echo Joy Division's Atrocity Exhibition driving it into a primal frenzy, Smith falls into some kind of trance as he sings: "Fall! Fall! Fall! Out of the sky/Cover my face as the animals die/In the hanging garden."
He moves about the stage like some sort of High Priest of Visceral on a different astral plain to the one he was when he wrote and recorded the songs on Pornography.
"During Pornography,” Smith told Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 , “the band was falling apart, because of the drinking and drugs. I was pretty seriously strung out a lot of the time, so I’m not sure if my recollection is right. I know for a fact that we recorded some of the songs in the toilets to get a really horrible feeling, because the toilets were dirty and grim. Simon doesn’t remember any of that, but I have a photo of me sitting on a toilet, in my clothes, trying to patch up some of the lyrics. It’s a tragic photo."
"We immersed ourselves in the more sordid side of life, and it did have a very detrimental effect on everyone in the group. We got hold of some very disturbing films and imagery to kind of put us in the mood. Afterwards, I thought, 'Was it really worth it?' We were only in our really early twenties, and it shocked us more than I realized – how base people could be, how evil people could be. There is a certain type of Cure fan who would hold Pornography in greater esteem than anything else we’ve ever done, but, at the time, most people hated it. They’re the only songs we’ve ever played where people would walk out or throw things.”
"But then,” Smith added with a laugh, “we probably were not that good on stage."
“I don’t have particularly fond memories of Pornography, but I think it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done, and it would have never got made if we hadn’t taken things to excess. People have often said, ‘Nothing you’ve done has had the same kind of intensity or passion.’ But I don’t think you can make too many albums like that, because you wouldn’t be alive.”
In Between Days, from The Head On The Door (1985)
It is straight into jangly pop ecstasy In-between Days from 1985 — with Smith singing wistfully: “Yesterday I got so old/I felt like I could die”.
The Lovecats, from Japanese Whispers (1983)
And then the even poppier Lovecats from 1983’s Japanese Whispers album, with Smith seeming warm to the song live for the first time in its history, getting especially feline fabulous lines like “We should have each other to dinner/We should have each other with cream”. This disproves the fake news put about by Smith that he doesn’t like aforesaid playful cat song, based on him once telling French magazine Rock & Folk that Love Cats had been “composed drunk, video filmed drunk, promotion made drunk. It was a joke.”
Close to Me, from The Head On The Door (1985)
The fans then can’t believe their luck when they next hear the playful opening bars of Close To Me, the lovesick classic from 1985’s Head On The Door. As SeMmith sings, “I’ve waited hours for this/I’ve made myself so sick,” we are transported in our imaginations to Tim Pop’s famous video for the song, inspired, of course, by a dream Smith had where he was locked in a linen closet that fell off a cliff and into the ocean. By the completion of the song, the 30,000 crowd feel like they are going over a cliff into the sea too, such is the euphoria at the show.
Lullaby, from Disintegration (1989)
The Cure then do Lullaby from 1989. This slightly terrifying number — not least for people who suffer from Arachnophobia — was, as Smith once recalled,provoked by memories of his youth: “When I was really young I had a very strange uncle (also called Robert!) who delighted in finding as many ways to scare me witless as he could. One of his favorites was to whisper grim bedside stories into my ear, stories that often related to the twisted deeds of a horrible boy-eating creature called simply ‘the spiderman’. One night he actually went so far as to climb in through my bedroom window after the lights had been put out… I screamed for what seemed like days.”
Boys Don't Cry, from Boys Don't Cry (1980)
Next up, the pure pop of 1979 single Boys Don’t Cry — written when Smith was in his late teens — has the audience dancing in a way perhaps only Cureheads can. It is three minutes of magic from Smith. Indeed these three minutes of pure almost giddy pop in 1979 “ran against the era’s prevailing punk winds,” wrote critic Tonino Cagnucci a few years after. Smith said: “When we did ‘Disintegration’ people said we were going back to our roots, whereas in fact our roots are ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and that sort of idiot pop.”
The pop songs like 'Boys Don't Cry' are naive to the point of insanity," Smith told Rolling Stone in 2004. "But considering the age I was and the fact that I had done nothing apart from go to school – no real life experience, everything was taken from books – some of them are pretty good."
From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea, from Wish (1992)
Fan favourite From The Edge Of The Deep Blue Sea — from 1992’s Wish album — is as positively magical a love song that only Robert Smith could sing and not sound cheesy. "And all I want is to keep it like this," he sings, as we sing along. "You and me alone, a secret kiss/And don't go home, don't go away/Don't let this end, please stay."
Seventeen Seconds, from Seventeen Seconds (1980)
On the next number, The Cure take it down a notch or two with Seventeen Seconds from 1980 ("The picture disappears/Everything is cold now/The dream had to end/The wish never came true,” sings Smith bleakly).
All Cats are Grey, from Faith (1981)
This is followed by All Cats Are Grey (which some mistook as All Cats Are Gay) from 1981’s Faith album. Here, Smith is lost again in some dark nightmare when he sings like William Burroughs inside the mind of David Bowie:
”I never thought that I would find myself
In bed amongst the stones
The columns are all men
Begging to crush me
No shapes sail on the dark deep lakes
And no flags wave me home
In the caves
All cats are gray
In the caves
The textures coat my skin
In the death cell
A single note
Rings on and on and on.”
Six Different Ways, from Head On The Door (1985)
Smith is at it again, on Six Different Ways from 1985’s Head On The Door album when he sings like Van Morrison and Lou Reed in the same body: “This is stranger than I thought/Six different ways inside my heart/And everyone I'll keep tonight".
A Forest, from Seventeen Seconds (1980)
The crowd go wild. Not knowing when or where to stop, Smith then brings the audience and The Cure into the atmospheric brilliance of 1980’s A Forest.
How Beautiful You Are, from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
Then it's 1987’s How Beautiful You Are, inspired by a 1869 poem The Eyes Of The Poor by Bauderlaire. Lest we forget, The Cure’s first single does in fact owe some of its inspiration to Camus' novel L'Étranger. This is the same man of course who told Robert Sandal in 1989: "I'm very aware of the heritage of the absurd. I still have that sense that everything is really stupid. That line of thought still stirs me, or doesn't as the case may be. Playing in a group is absurd. All that self-aggrandisement. And I'm still fascinated by funerals, by that thing of Meursault (hero of L'Étranger) being the outsider at his mother's funeral..."
Then, they are gone.
But this being The Cure, who play Bruce Springsteen-length sets, we know they will be back for the encore. And what an encore. Three of them. (This is my fantasy set, remember.)
Friday, I'm in Love, from Wish (1992)
First up. 1992’s classic Friday, I’m In Love. It was so much of a classic, however, so the story goes that Robert Smith upon writing it subsequently asked all his mates from which band he’d subconsciously nicked ‘Friday I’m In Love'. It took him a while for the penny to drop. He had written this timeless pop piece de resistance all himself.
Smith said: “‘Friday, I’m In Love’ is not a work of genius, it was almost a calculated song. It’s a really good chord progression, I couldn’t believe no-one else had used it… I’d phone people up and sing it and go, ‘Have you heard this before? What’s it called?’ They’d go, ‘No, no, I’ve never heard it.'”
Pictures Of You, from Disintegration (1989)
After Friday, I’m In Love, they do Pictures Of You, then disappear offstage again.
Just Like Heaven - with Dinosaur Jr
They re-appear for the second encore.
This is a shock. Not only are they playing the song they opened the show with two hours ago, Just Like Heaven, but they are playing it with Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis.
The aforementioned Dinosaur Jr.’s 1989 cover of Just Like Heaven is one of Smith's favourite covers of a Cure song, so having them here in Dublin to play on it with The Cure is weirdly right. Very weird is the next song The Cure plays — a duet of Dear Prudence by Siouxsie and the Banshees — where he is joined by none other than Siouxsie Sioux herself.
All the bile that she said about Smith when he left her group is in an instant washed away as they sing together. The act of seeing them together is astonishing in itself. In the spring of 1984, when a sick Smith, under the orders of his doctor, pulls out of Siouxsie & the Banshees' world tour to push the new Banshee album Hyaena, which Smith had contributed to a year ago, Siouxsie was livid. Years later, she was still livid, telling Uncut magazine in 2005: "It wasn't like he was ill. He was one of those people who just didn't say 'no' to anything, so when it's self-induced it's hard to have sympathy. To actually say two days before a tour that's been planned in advance that he can't do it - f*** off! What a lightweight.")
Robert's reaction was typically more Zen. “I I think Severin understood and, by then, my mind was made up. After all, I'd given them two weeks' notice, which was longer than any guitarist had given them before!" [Smith and Banshees’ bassist Steven Severin had a one-off side project The Glove, with vocalist/dancer Jeanette Landray.]
After Dear Prudence, The Cure and Siouxsie are both gone.
Don't forget there is still a third encore to come. And you won't forget it either.
Just as the crowd think the show can’t get any better, The Cure return to the stage for the final time. With J Mascis en route back to Amherst, Massachusetts, another indie godhead from Cabinteely, Mr Kevin Shields joins The Cure onstage on lo-fi masterpiece by a certain My Bloody Valentine, Only Tomorrow, with Smith joining him on vocals. (Smith and MBV played at last year’s Meltdown festival in London, which he curated.)
Jumping Someone Else's Train, from Boys Don't Cry (1979)
After that, as Kevin exits stage left, The Cure finish with an eardrum-denting Jumping Someone Else's Train from way back in 1979. "Don't say what you mean," it goes, "You might spoil your face/If you walk in the crowd/You won't leave any trace."
Robert Smith leaves more than a (smudged-lipstick) trace on Dublin.
The Cure play Malahide Castle on Saturday June 8.