I was never much of a Cure fan in high school. In fact, I wasn’t a fan at all. I didn’t get it; the make up, jet black hair teased to the sky, mopey guys, and the doom and gloom. None of it clicked with my Midwest, meat-and-potatoes, not really Presbyterian upbringing. If there wasn’t some crunchy guitar or 10 minute songs about the intergalactic politics of the space federation I could care a less. These sad sacks from England moaning about death and love and more death just did nothing for me. But since one of my best friends DID love the Cure I was exposed to them. From those high school days up to the year 2000 I’d hear a song or two that was enjoyable. Then in June of 2000 that same friend talked me into going to see The Cure with him at the World Music Theater near Chicago. With me only a month into being a dad and my friend a month out of serious back surgery we trekked up Highway 30 West and hunkered in the outdoor amphitheater and watched The Cure blaze through a set that was filled with both old songs and from their newest record at the time, Bloodflowers. For being just a passing fan(barely), I really enjoyed the show and at that point my mind was open to letting more of that Robert Smith guy into my head.
This friend of mine and I, we’ll call him Ty, ended up seeing The Cure two more times. The next time was in 2004 at the Curiosa Festival, again at the World Music Theater. Mogwai, The Rapture, Interpol, and then the Cure performed on the main stage. A second stage had Muse, Cursive, Thursday, and Melissa Auf der Maur performing, though we never made it to the second stage. The last time we saw Smith and company was in 2008 at the Allstate Arena. A great show, though somewhat obscured by beer.
So this past Friday Ty and I hit the road to the Windy City once again to see The Cure. This time it was at the UIC Pavillion. My lovely wife got us a hotel reservation at the Holiday Inn downtown, just a mile from the Pavillion. We were in walking distance from the show, as well as good eats. What could go wrong? Well, lots could have gone wrong. But fortunately for us nothing did.
We hit the road around 2:30pm and with Chicago being an hour behind us we would hit the city in plenty of time. We made a pit stop for something to drink and a snack about 30 minutes from the toll road. Ty brought plenty of Cure for us to listen to(plenty of live stuff) and great conversation was had. We made it to the toll road around 3pm Chicago time and things seemed to be going well until we got to 90/94(Dan Ryan Expressway.) The traffic ground to a crawl. What would’ve been a 25 minute drive ended up being close to an hour and 15 minutes. My raspberry iced tea made its way to my bladder in record time. Even in an air-conditioned van the heat was overwhelming. It was a balmy 95 degrees in Chi-town and on the freeway that heat multiplied.
After the thought of urinating in an empty raspberry tea bottle had dissipated our exit was in sight. We made our way to the hotel and unloaded our crap in the room. I changed into some shorts and we were out the door and down to the hotel bar and grill for a pre-dinner beer. We each had a pint, asked the bartender for directions to some good eats and we headed out to Canal St for some italian beef at Portillo’s. The walk was a little hotter than anticipated, but we made it to our destination and were just as relieved by the dark, cool restaurant as we were the sandwiches and ice-cold draft IPAs. If you’re ever in the Windy City and you’re not intimidated by piles of meat between two buns, you MUST hit up Portillo’s . Hands down the best Italian Beef you’ll ever have. Great service and atmosphere, too. Oh, and did I mention ice-cold draft IPA?
So after dinner and two goblets of delicious brew we hit the pavement for the mile or so walk. About a 1/4 the way into this walk we both realized it was hotter than we realized. The sun was beating down on us two middle-aged idiots. Both of us still barely two months out of back surgery. Ty had a spinal fusion done back at the end of April and is still honestly in a lot of pain. Beer and food and the thought of The Cure helped him push through, but still, it was a rough jaunt for the guy. Me, I was just worried I’d fry like the pale, Germanic idiot I was in that 90 degree heat(other than my scalp getting a little pink I was okay.) At one point on this walk we came across a parked Jeep Wrangler. The front passenger side door was open and this dreadlocked dude says to Ty, “Hey man. Hey man, my sister think you handsome.” Ty replied “What was that?” The guy says again “My sister think you handsome.” To that Ty says “Oh, okay” and keeps on walking. Dreadlock dude didn’t look too happy. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his sister in the driver’s seat, nor his cousins in the backseat. We kept trucking.
We made it to the Pavillion. It’s located on the UIC campus. It’s a nice place; big, open, and plenty of room to fill. Opening act The Twilight Sad came out and played a 35 minute set. I hadn’t heard this Scottish band before. I thought they were pretty decent. They reminded me of a cross between Elbow and Cold Cave. A good way to get the evening started. Beers were $10, too. I bought a round and Ty bought a round and that was it. I couldn’t pay that much money for sub par beer. I could barely pay that much for good beer.
Finally The Cure hit the stage. They opened the show with three old songs, “Shake Dog Shake” from The Top, “Kyoto Song” from Head On The Door, and “A Night Like This”, also from Head On The Door. “All I Want” from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was next. It was a spectacular way to open the show. Smith seemed to be pulling tunes out of storage and letting them breathe some fresh air. With a solid rendition of the Cure(including American guitarist Reeve Grabels), these songs sounded absolutely stunning.
One might also look at this live set as a “farewell” show, as it were. Despite a couple new numbers, this nearly three hour show was a hodge podge of musical pasts for The Cure. “Primary”, Pictures of You”, “Charlotte Sometimes”, “Lovesong”, “Just Like Heaven”, “From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea”, and “One Hundred Years” peppered the initial set before even a single encore was done. I’m not complaining because Robert Smith does nostalgia better than any other artist I know. The guy sounds amazing after nearly 40 years. He doesn’t sound beat up or used up. His vocals are still young at heart, which gives everyone in the audience from those that have been following The Cure since the beginning to newbies just finding their goth-y sea legs have this amazing, visceral music experience. There’s no need to hear something like “Well, they sounded so much better when I was saw ’em in 1986.” The Cure have sounded better each time I’ve seen them. And if this tour isn’t the end, then they’ll probably sound even better next time.
So encores. They had four encores on Friday night. Like the main set, they were covered in great old tracks and one in-particular, “Burn” from The Crow Soundtrack, was absolutely stunning. The final encore was “Lullaby”, “Let’s Go To Bed”, “Close To Me”, “Why Can’t I Be You”, and “Boys Don’t Cry” for the finish. It was a glorious show that never lulled. We hit the pavement with a few hundred others and made our way back to the hotel. These two middle-aged dudes; sweaty, sore, slightly sunburnt, and in need of a few hours of shuteye.
I’m not sure if Ty and I will ever see The Cure again. I’m not sure if they’ll tour again. If they don’t I feel pretty confident in saying we saw one of the best Cure shows of our lives Friday night. Smith could’ve said “This is it, we’re done. Thanks for the memories” and I think he could’ve retired happy knowing he’d played one of his best shows ever. And even if The Cure don’t put out anymore new music and do continue these every four years or so tours I think Robert Smith has a songbook that would allow for him to do that. He’s one of the truly underrated songwriters of my generation. If you ever get a chance, see them. You won’t be disappointed.
Just, if you’re seeing them in the city and waking to the venue make sure you wear some decent shoes. And a hat.