City: Indio, California Venue: Coachella Date: 2004-05-02
The Cure's Robert Smith
I'm gonna go ahead, skip the history lesson, and assume that you all are familiar with Robert Smith and the grand importance of his band, the Cure. You guys were there, you remember the songs -- hell, maybe you're even still buying his records. His place in the lofty upper echelon of popular musicians, while strange when you think about it, is nonetheless secure. His presence at this massive thing, Coachella, amidst peers (Kraftwerk, the Pixies) as well as progeny (BRMC, Pretty Girls Make Graves, the Stills) is anticipated and certainly warranted, but the time slot is coming off as a bit unfortunate. You see, Bob and the boys have been scheduled to close down this two-day-desert-music-masterpiece, to set it down on a gentle, pleasantly nostalgic note. I have been scheduled to watch him and say a few words about it.
After literally prying myself away from Mogwai's gorgeous, shattering set in the much-too-distant, appropriately named Sahara Tent ("Coachella" is desert-speak for "Sacrifice"), I made my way to the main stage -- wading through the sun-baked, semi-conscious masses, most of them sprawled out on the cool grass, clearly spent of their energies and interest, not to mention their cash. They certainly didn't seem to be gearing up for a one-and-a-half hour Cure set. No, by this point, after a hundred bands or so and 48 hours of 100 degree heat, the last thing anybody was hungering for was old '80's Goth pop.
Undeterred, the Masters of Mope (remember that?) took to the behemoth main stage after a nearly 25-minute delay; the two giant monitors flanking the stage finally flashed the Man's grave image, creating an audible moment of real shock and awe. Frankly, Robert Smith looks dead and bloated. Granted, he's always looked a little dead, what with the ashen white skin, crooked lipstick and manic hair, but his reluctance over the years to adjust that look to fit his aging, widening frame has left him with a ghastly, comic appearance that had folks near me struggling to find the words to describe what they were seeing. It was (not quite) Michael Jackson-ish, but still very distracting -- so much so that I missed the Cure's first song, or at least didn't pay any attention to it. At any rate, it was a new one, and not very good.
What came next was good. "Fascination Street" drew the people's attention back to the music, where it would stay for the set's remainder. The Cure is responsible for dozens of wonderful songs, most of which were offered on this night, though with little variation and virtually no interaction. "Charlotte Sometimes", "A Forest", "In Between Days" and most of the other Standing on a Beach singles got terrific reactions from the crowd -- not as palpably adoring and thankful as the night before during a lively, memorable Pixies set, but nearly as much so. The crowd went especially apeshit for the rarely played but much requested "Love Cats" as well as "Just Like Heaven" -- arguably one of the finest, purest pop songs ever conceived. But if I'd have to guess, I'd say the loudest "WHOO!"'s and "YEAH!"s came during "Boys Don't Cry", a song that reminds me (and thousands others, I'm sure) of junior high; understanding even then the song's ironic, desperate pride and taking note of the narrator's oh-so-crucial mistakes ("Misjudged your limits / Pushed you too far / Took you for granted!"). It was profound advice for a 13-year old kid with raging hormones and a susceptible attitude towards the opposite sex. Smith's great gift of communicating feeling and melody remains, but with a song like "Boys Don't Cry" we are reminded, painfully, of how dim it's become of late. "Pictures of You" and "Lullaby" will pay his bills until the day he dies, but his artistry and vitality are beginning to seem as lifeless as his appearance.
Smith closed the set and this great weekend with "Close to Me", yet another Standing on a Beach classic, and the overall sense seemed to be one of relief. This thing was finally over, and how better to end it than with a song of such divine groove and lush instrumentation. Robert Smith's old songs have endured for nearly three decades, and for that he is deserving of unique praise and respect. It's difficult to say if an event of this magnitude, featuring bands of this ilk, would even be possible without his contributions to popular music.
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