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To mark four decades as a live act, Robert Smith and the Cure staged and filmed two special concerts during the summer of 2018. The shows are collected in 40 Live, including director Nick Wickham’s Curætion-25 and director Tim Pope’s Anniversary. One performance offers a deep dive into the band’s evolution, and the other is a career-defining celebration.
The Curætion-25 concert was recorded on June 24, 2018 at the 25th Meltdown Festival that was curated (get it?) by Smith. Subtitled From There to Here | From Here to There, the performance in London’s Royal Festival Hall begins with “Three Imaginary Boys.” A song from each of the Cure’s 13 studio albums is played in chronological order, tracing the Cure’s evolution and ascent. After reaching “It’s Over” from 2008’s 4:13 Dream, the band offers a glimpse of the future by introducing promising new songs including the melodramatic “It Can Never Be the Same” with its rumbling and guttural bass. Smith assumes the role of religious skeptic during the skittering, syncopated “Step into the Light.” Afterward, time reverses course as the band plays a song per album in anti-chronological order. The backward march down the Cure’s devolution begins with “The Hungry Ghost” and concludes with the bracing but melancholy “Boys Don’t Cry.” The set list is a diehard fan’s delight, eschewing the most popular fare from an album like Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me in favor of beloved but deeper cuts like the haunted “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep.”
Anniversary was captured two weeks later on July 7, 2018 in Hyde Park under a canopy of colossal trees and before a massive audience of 65,000. The exuberant set is heavy with crowd-pleasers including “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” “Inbetween Days,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Pictures of You,” “Friday I’m in Love” and “Why Can’t I Be You?” Equal in ambition to the Meltdown show but less esoteric, the festive and career-spanning Hyde Park concert underscores the band’s considerable impact since Smith, Michael Dempsey, and Lol Tolhurst first performed as the Cure at The Rocket in Crawley during the summer of 1978. “If you had asked me then, ‘What do you think you’ll be doing in 40 years,’ I think I would’ve been wrong with my answer,“ says Smith.
There are very few limits upon the power of a great Cure song. “That made the sun go down,” says Smith upon concluding “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep.”
Smith is abetted by a seasoned band of Cure veterans, including mainstay bassist Simon Gallup and Disintegration keyboardist Roger O’Donnell. Gallup is keeper of some of the Cure’s most memorable riffs, playing the melodic bass hooks for songs like “Lovesong,” “Close to Me,” and “Play for Today.” O’Donnell layers sparkling piano onto “The Caterpillar” and raises a roar from the crowd with the spectral opening synthesizer notes of “A Forest.” The latter song is propelled by the pulse of Gallup and Jason Cooper, the drummer who has been aboard since Boris Williams’ departure prior to Wild Mood Swings. Cooper shines with intoxicating tom-toms on “Burn” while Smith plays dissonant pipes.
Relative newcomer, avant garde guitarist, and former David Bowie sideman Reeves Gabrels has proven himself to be a pivotal Cure member since 2012, although his collaborative work with Smith reaches back more than 20 years. Gabrels steps out for stylish solos during songs including “On a Night Like This,” and unleashes pyrotechnic fretwork on “Never Enough.” Gabrels also provides the ferocious howl to “Shake Dog Shake” and the quirky acoustic texture to the nightmarish pop of “Lullaby.”
Staged under moody low light, the look of Curætion-25 is stylized and creative. The outdoor presentation of Anniversary is vivid and lifelike. Each film occupies an individual Blu-ray or DVD disc, with the pair bound into a hardback book including sleeve notes and photos. Of the generous 57 songs split across the two concerts, only seven are repeated from one performance to the other. Both shows offer surround-sound mixes that put viewers into the audience. “It’s been a good first four decades,” says Smith when saying good night to the crowd. “Here’s to the next one. Ha!”
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