The Cure at Xcel: Rare Twin Cities show wowed diehards, wore out everyone else

Robert Smith leading the Cure at Xcel on Tuesday.

Robert Smith leading the Cure at Xcel on Tuesday.

I’ve always liked the Cure. Or so I thought.

I remember being an impish, impressionable teen sitting in my friend’s bedroom in the midst of a dizzying high, absorbing the dulcet tones that defined their landmark 1989 album Disintegration for the first time. I loved it.

Everything from the brooding synths to Robert Smith’s tortured vocals to the lovelorn lyricism that sounded like it was culled straight from my very own diary (I actually had a Xanga, a popular online journal at the time). It was dark matter on vinyl. The beloved U.K. band transcended the 1980s and spoke to generations of brooders and dirtbags. I was one of them.

I was in 11th grade and I knew two things: I was scared of girls and I liked the Cure.

So, like many Twin Cities fans young and old, I was looking forward to the much-anticipated return of Robert Smith and his gang of goth-pop weirdos (Smith is the only remaining original member, though bassist Simon Gallup has been around since '79). The Cure's first local concert in 20 years arrived Tuesday at a mostly full Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and it, by all accounts, delivered. 

Reverb? Check. Wondrous renditions of staples like “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You?” Check. Encore? Check. Two encores? Check. Three encores? Check. Four encores? Check. What? Oh. Yeah. Four encores. Why? I still don’t know.

All in all, the Cure delivered a focused, no-bullshit 34-song set that covered a wide swath of their voluminous catalog.

“The pressure of holding a purple guitar is really getting to me,” Smith said after a slow start that included opener “Open,” the gloomy “Night Like This,” and the thoroughly propulsive “Push.” It was a paint-by-numbers set that catered to both casual listeners and diehards — but mostly diehards. Performance-wise, the band sounded cohesive and true to the records, but also painfully stiff.

Reeves Gabrels, who formerly played for David Bowie, injected some much-needed life into the Cure’s signature doom and gloom with incendiary arena-rock guitar work. The band shined on cuts like the stunning “It Can Never Be the Same” and livened up toward the end with post-punk romps that included “Shake Dog Shake” and “Let’s Go to Bed.” The relentlessly catchy “Boys Don’t Cry" finally closed out the three-hour-plus show.

However, something felt off, dull even. There are limits to the Cure’s widescreen melancholy, and those shortcomings were only exacerbated by the cavernous stadium setting. Robert Smith’s voice doesn’t seem like it’s aged since the early '80s, but the many of the songs haven’t fared as well.

The set was brutally indulgent, which is great if you're a mega-fan. For the rest of us, the marathon concert was merely punctuated with flashes of brilliance. Maybe I’m just a dumb, ungrateful millennial (let's find out in the comment section!). Or maybe I just don’t actually like the Cure that much? Was my gloomy, depressive Bloomington childhood all a lie?!

As the Star Tribune’s Chris Riemenschneider pointed out in his review, “Younger fans wouldn’t have the attention span to sit through Tuesday’s morose but ultimately marvelous marathon anyway.” That’s fair, but a sizeable chunk of my seating area, which was filled mostly by middle-aged and blue-hairs fans, exited well before the third encore.

A night like this? It didn't need to nearly spill into Wednesday. 

Critic's bias: My interest in the Cure has waxed and waned over the years.

Overheard in the crowd: [While entering the venue] “We got to hurry! We got to RACE for the Cure!”

The crowd: Millennials through Boomers, with an emphasis somewhere in the middle. Everyone was ready to relive their lovelorn awkward years. Nostalgia is the great unifier in this story. 

— Chain of Flowers (@CraigatCoF) June 8, 2016