Curiosa: Joyfully Gloomy

Hockey fan Robert Smith in 2001Curiosa at the Tweeter Center

Tinley Park, IL, August 12, 2004

I really only wanted to see the Cure. I’ve been listening to them since, when? 1987? so it seemed like as good a time as any. I had actually made plans to go with a friend at his birthday party and I was drunk and completely forgot about it the next day. “Oh yeah, of course I still want to go. When is it again? Thursday? Perfect!”

The Tweeter Center is a big, outdoor band shell venue exactly like every other big, outdoor band shell venue from Pine Knob outside Detroit to Deer Creek in Indiana. We parked in the dirt a mile away and made it in as the Cooper Temple Clause was playing the second stage. From what I saw from the beer line, they were no more impressive live than their overhyped album, despite what their barrage of publicists try to cram down your throat.

I couldn’t remember who all was playing this weird festival on this unseasonably chilly August evening, but as we made our way to the main stage a band had just started playing. Before we could see the band we heard the high-pitched yowl of a young Robert Smith impersonator over the top of some dancey guitars and a drum machine beat. “Jesus,” I said, “did they only get bands who sound exactly like the Cure?” But as we got closer, my cynicism was swept away by the sight of these four adorable dorks in their T-shirts and skinny jeans.

The guy who had been standing by the drum machine sat down behind the real drum set for the next song, while another kid clipped a microphone to his bellybutton and started beating away on a cowbell. The singer pranced around with his perfectly nerdy hair and they started to sound less and less like the Cure. Their songs were actually fun and dancey, sort of that sound that everybody compares to Gang of Four, even though nobody actually ever listens to Gang of Four. Between songs, they said something about playing “outside of Chicago,” so I assumed they were a local band who got a lucky break. They continued to swap instruments throughout their tight, short set, and at one point the cowbell player even played a suitably skronky saxophone.

We went out for another beer after the band was done and we wondered who they were because we both ended up really liking them. Turns out it was the fucking Rapture! Ha! Had I known they were the Rapture, I’m sure I would’ve hated them because of all the hype. I saw their video on the MTV2 and was bored to delrium by it. I have no idea why they would choose to make a gritty, abrasive, annoying video for a band that’s obviously so fun and playful, but who asked me?

Auf Der Maur was playing on the second stage and we didn’t get very close but from the beer tent they sounded like Hole-lite (and yes, that’s cheap but it’s also completely accurate). We found out that Muse wouldn’t be playing. There were signs on the T-shirt booths that said, “Don’t ask us what happened to Muse. WE DON’T KNOW!” Turns out the bass player injured his hand “in a fall.” Don’t do whip-its around glass tables, you blue-lipped sissy.

Interpol was next on the main stage. I never gave their album a chance after seeing a video and maybe downloading a song or two. Joy Division was just never my thing. I know people really like them, but it doesn’t do anything for me. Regardless, Interpol put on a good live show. With David Spade on vocals and Crispin Glover on bass, how can you go wrong? Like the Rapture, I enjoyed their set without the slightest desire to listen to their albums. And really, what more can you expect from an opening band?

I was there to see the Cure.

When Robert Smith and his pals took the stage, it was pretty much exactly how I imagined it would be. They were old and they sounded great. All those other dudes in the band must work out a lot and spend some time in the sun, because they all look buff and tan if wrinkly. Not Bob though, ho ho. He’s as pale as ever and a little chunkier. He reminded me of my grandmother with his big hair and his loud makeup and his chubby little hands. He was perfect.

Every time he would smile the crowd went nuts. On the songs where he wasn’t playing guitar he would do his little Robert Smith dances and we ate all that shit up. He would stroll over to the sides of the stage where the spotlights couldn’t reach and stand in the dark and sing to the people in the front rows. It seemed appropriate for him to be singing in the dark, dressed in his baggy black cargo pants and an oversized black shirt, just his face visible against the black backdrop.

My pal was disappointed that they didn’t play more obscure stuff, but it didn’t bother me to see them play their hits. And when Smith took up his acoustic 12-string and knocked us out with the one-two punch of “In Between Days” followed by “Just Like Heaven,” it was impossible not to fully bask in the pure pop perfection of those songs. And to follow that with “Pictures of You” was almost more than I could take. I know I’m not the only one with intense memories of sitting alone in my teenage bedroom listening to that song over and over. Blogger Dana said it best while posting about Hewlett-Packard using the song in an ad:

Do they WANT me to associate their brand with being 16, stoned, and completely heartbroken? …Immediately I flashed to a memory of my much younger self, crouched on the floor of my closet, sobbing hysterically, alternating between hits of sativa and Jack Daniels, exhaling into a paper towel tube stuffed with dryer sheets, and emerging only to hit rewind on my stereo… Thank you, HP. I’m going to go cut myself now.

You’re not alone, Dana; that’s what that song is all about.

It took me a while to get into the Cure. In high school I was an anti-80s puritan, a devout disciple of the ascetic aesthetics of the Smiths. Synths were strictly verboten. The Cure snuck in by way of Boys Don’t Cry; no synthesized bullshit on that one, of course. Eventually I loosened up a little, thank goodness, and came to appreciate the gloomy vibe that only man-made sounds can conjure up. And by the time Disintegration was released I was fully ready for it.

That was a lousy summer. I had just graduated from high school and was working part-time in a frozen yogurt shop. Alone, surrounded by creamy scoops of happiness. My girlfriend dumped me for a community theatre actor, and my best friend was working third-shift in a factory, sleeping the hours I wasn’t at work. Alone, lonely, alone. Reading a biography of Oscar Wilde, and listening to one album over and over. Everything I had known was about to change, and I’ve always hated change. I wasn’t looking forward to going away to college. I was sure it was going to be terrible. Having roommates, having a community bathroom, having to make new friends. No fucking thanks.

It’s funny now (well, sort of) to look back at all the references to being old on Disintegration, and how deeply I connected with them. Robert Smith was 29 when he recorded those songs; I was 17 when the album was released. Youth is wasted on the fucking retarded, I guess.

As it turned out, of course, college was the most fun I’d ever have in my life and I met a bunch of wonderful people who are still close friends all these years later. The Cure, on the other hand, never released another good album after Disintegration. Had they broken up after that release, there is no doubt in the world that they would be considered the most important band of the 80s.

But maybe that’s the wrong approach… The Grateful Dead never released a decent album after Workingman’s Dead, and they kept on keeping on and pleasing their fans for another 30 years. And maybe that’s what the Cure is doing. You’d think so by looking at all the hippies in the crowd. I wonder if the next generation of kids will say to their friends, “Dude, their albums have basically been the more of the same since 1990, but you gotta see them live, man.” Because their live show is still a must-see experience.


1. lost

2. plainsong

3. labyrinth

4. fascination street

5. from the edge of the deep green sea

6. high

7. the end of the world

8. anniversary

9. lovesong

10. inbetween days

11. just like heaven

12. pictures of you

13. closedown

14. before three

15. disintegration

16. one hundred years

17. the promise


18. close to me

19. the lovecats

20. why can’t I be you

21. boys don’t cry

14 thoughts on “Curiosa: Joyfully Gloomy”

  1. That “Pictures of You” reference is sooo spot on. When I hear it I think of sniffing glue, drinking warm bottles of Popov Vodka and alienating myself from the rest of the world with a pair of headphones and an all black wardrobe.

    It also always reminds me of the “Lust for Life” soundtrack that’s played over that commerical for Cruise ships. Is that commercial saying to people that they can get some great Smack on the Love Boat?

  2. At some point during the week, typically on Fridays, I feel the urge to scream, “HOUSE OF, JEALOUS LUVAHS!!! HOUSE OF, JEALOUS LUVAHS!!!”

    And whatcho talkin’ bout no one listens to Gang of Four?

    Good write up Jake.

  3. Ahhhh..thanks for the review. I have a free ticket to this tonight in LA and was leery of going. Glad to hear they can still provide the goods.

  4. You summed it up pretty well, Jake. You could just scan the audience during “Plainsong” or “Push”, and just see everyone flashing back to their respective bedroom/drug of choice, etc. Nothing like a little self-indulgent teenage angst.

    And I listen to Gang of Four, so that’s one person. Of course, that’s why I don’t listen to the Rapture.

  5. You’re right, German. How lost and misguided we have been before you came along and put forth such a convinving argument. I will now go home and dispose of all my Cure CD’s, and only hope that I can rebuild my life after all these wasted years.

    Douche bag.

  6. This Curiosa thing and the “hits only” set seems like misplaced effort to me.

    No matter how much pandering the Cure does to lure “The Kids” into choosing their product, they are never going to create legitimate “buzz” about anything they do ever again.

    Even though they’re over the hill in just about every respect, the Cure have enough gas left in the tank to produce respectable music and concerts while still keeping their dignity. Next time, they should worry less about playing “the hits”, and promoting a record that will only be bought by the 250,000 people that buy every single thing they do, and just have a damn tour.

  7. “The Grateful Dead never released a decent album after Workingman’s Dead”

    – oh really, what about that little masterpiece called American Beauty?

  8. This review was really bad. Why did’nt Glorious Noise send someone who actually listens to the bands on the Curiosa roster, other then some dude who does’nt even know what he’s talking about.

  9. Jake, I’m thinking you could have just left it at “The Grateful Dead never released a decent album”, but hey, to each his own.

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