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Coachella 2009: The Cure, still sad after all these years


You have to admire a man who has spent the entirety of his adult life, so far, in eyeliner and lipstick. Looking every bit the Ghost of Angsty-Teen Christmas Past, Robert Smith has changed very little since he stole countless confused and youthful hearts during the Cure's 1980s uber-Goth heyday. He's still got the same face and stubborn pout, but his cherubic roundness has hardened into the angular resolve of a middle-aged man who has loved and lost one too many times.

Watching Smith perform from my post in the cool, damp polo field grass, it struck me that just as Friday's headliner, Paul McCartney, represented my parents' defining musical moment, Robert Smith and the Cure represented mine. I wasn't 5 when I listened to the Cure's songs; I was a hormonal, aching, irritated, inspired, vivacious and cruel 13-year-old girl who needed a band like the Cure to help me make sense of the backward young-adult reality I was so suddenly encountering.

When the band played the ominous but classic co-dependent love-song-in-denial "Lullaby," with its most aching line, "The spiderman is having me for dinner tonight," I remembered how the passively creepy little ditty used to sound so feral and ahead of its time. Especially for a girl still going to Milli Vanilli and Sweet Sensation concerts. Sunday night,  the song, along with many others the band played, sounded slightly wan and uninspired. The Cure's churning wash of guitars, lamentful and plodding bass lines and Smith's signature voice of wavering sorrow never quite came together to punch you in the guts with its debilitating one-two of deep need and thunderous want.

Almost 30 years after they formed, the Cure is still performing. Why are so many of Coachella's headliners plucked from former decades? "Because there are no new ones emerging to take their place," conjectured a Pop & Hiss colleague. 

That's why it was so refreshing to see the Killers, with their ripe talent, headlining on the main stage on Saturday night, couched between two of the reigning kings of the Boomer era and Generation X, Paul McCartney and the Cure. The Killers represent Generation Y,  an era that's still defining itself and creating its own legends.

The Cure is already legendary for a series of albums that came out more than two decades ago. When the Goth pioneers played "Pictures of You," and struck the opening notes for "Just Like Heaven," the crowd stood up and fanatically danced. Smith smiled, so we smiled, jumped and spun around, grinning at each other, remembering our former sniffling junior-high selves. This is what we had come for. We wanted more of the band's deep back-catalog of hits, not (sorry, Robert) a lagging and drawn-out run through the newer, less hook-driven work. 

And so it was no surprise to see more and more people leaving as the Cure continued to play new songs or obscure B-sides, pushing 33 minutes past curfew with a seemingly endless series of encores. That's the difficulty with today's oldies revival: If you're not playing an oldie, you just might find yourself without a crowd. McCartney knew that, and Coachella loved him for it. 

It was the first Coachella under President Obama, and after spending much of its existence fueled by political anger, with many performers speaking out against the war and the Bush administration, this year's festival found the crowd significantly mellowed and ready to relax. But that doesn't mean we wanted our favorite bands to get so comfortable on stage.

-- Jessica Gelt

Photo of the Cure's Robert Smith by Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (13)

I know! I mean how dare they play a set that caters to their longtime fans, who have supported them through their 30 years together, instead of those who own 2 albums, and only know 5 songs. That's some nerve! Your precious Killers wouldn't do that.

And for the record, they didn't play a single b-side (as you claim in your post), and only played 4 songs from their new album, and 2 from their last album. So that's 6 "new" songs out of 31 & 1/2 songs played.

You whine about wanting "oldies", yet also complain about the "endless" encores. Hmm, every song in the encores was at least 22 years old. Maybe not songs that a Milli Vanilli fan wants to hear, but songs that Cure fans love! And it wasn't all obscure stuff, they played 14 songs that were singles.

Sorry, you obviously have a right to your opinion, but it does seem a bit silly when you state things that are false or contradictory. Sorry you couldn't enjoy what was a fantastic show.

And as to all of those people who left early, I feel sorry for them. They missed one of the best Cure shows in years!

"sounded slightly wan and uninspired" Were we at the same concert??? This Cure performance was EPIC! The crowd was mesmerized and Robert Smith FELT it, as indicated by the THREE encores. They would of continued to play pass the 3 1/2 hours that they did, if not for the pulling of the plugs by Coachella.
Robert Smith and his blokes DELIVERED past anyone's expectations last night, under the desert stars. This performance will never be forgotten by those that endured garbage like Public Enemy and other noise, to witness their IDOL; The Cure.

This reviewer has no idea what they are talking about.

Gotta say, I'm a card-carrying member of generation Y, and I'm right with Carol. My expectations weren't all that high for The Cure, but they delivered what was (for me) clearly the best main stage performance at this year's Coachella. And from where I was standing, to the left of the stage, back about 80 feet, the crowd seemed pretty into it. Especially during the first encore after management killed the sound system, when the entire crowd provided the lyrics to "Boys Don't Cry" when Robert Smith no longer could. . .

As a member of "Generation Y", I refuse to believe that The Killers represent us the way McCartney and The Cure represent their respective generations. There are far more talented musical acts out there (Radiohead, The Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, and pretty much my whole iPod).

I love The Cure and Paul McCartney, by the way, and watching the McCartney videos on YouTube made me wish I splurged the money on a plane ticket to skip my exams and go see him.

The Cure was the best band at Coachella under McCartney hands down.

Un-inspired? $33,000 in noise curfew fee's later and the band is un-inspired?

I think you're one of the people that ditched out early. You probably danced drunk to Milli Vanilli in the VIP parking lot by yourself.

Jessica Gelt is completely ignorant.


This MUST be your first Coachella, or else you got your job as a reviewer at LA Times by being a typical LAer: blase, jaded, and critical of everything.

Robert Smith & the Cure brought down the house like no one I've seen before (at least at the past 4 Coachella shows.

Seeing the Cure have no regard for the 'rules' and play on way past the midnight curfew was inspiring - like nothing this Gen Y girl has seen before.

That set list was amazing! What b-sides? this person obviously has no clue what they are talking about. The Cure played their best material the other night at Coachella.

Seriously I have no idea what you are talking about? what other hits did you want them to play? they didn't play friday i'm in love, plainsong, or close to me but are you really going to complain about not hearing three specific songs?

Today, May 21st is Robert Smith's 50th! Not bad for a geezer from what I hear...

The Cure will always surprise the uninitiated with their powerful and complete live performance. They are not just a studio band that churns out albums. I missed Coachella and am bummed that I missed this epic performance. Y'all were lucky to see them play!

When the Cure played Coachella in '04 they stuck in a half-hour segment of "hits" which felt contrived. This set blended in some hits nicely with some new songs and some songs The Cure rarely play. (He has earned the right to do whatever he wants.) Endless encores?....Having the lights come on and then the PA turned off and then finally the amps unplugged with the fans singing along instead, was truly one of my best moments in 7 years of going to Coachella

I don't need to point out the errors that have already been mentioned. Suffice it to say, you've made some mistakes in your article, Ms. Gelt.

I too, am sorry that you could not enjoy what was clearly an EPIC PERFORMANCE from The Cure; that was one of their finest shows. You could tell they were all into it, but Robert was especially INTENSE. I'm excited to see what The Cure are going to do next. I would LOVE to see them over here on the East Coast. They are one of the best live acts in the world.

i was way surprised how awesome the cure,i even missed way more than i wanted to of etienne de crecy because the cure were kick in ass

The Cure played:

'Underneath The Stars'
'Prayers For Rain'
'A Strange Day'
'The End of the World'
'To Wish Impossible Things'
'Pictures of You'
'From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea'
'The Perfect Boy'
'Wrong Number'
'In Between Days'
'Just Like Heaven'
'Shake Dog Shake'
'The Hungry Ghost'
'One Hundred Years'
'It’s Over'
'If Only Tonight We Could Sleep'
'The Kiss'
'At Night'
'Play For Today'
'A Forest'
'Three Imaginary Boys'
'Fire In Cairo'
'Boys Don’t Cry'
'Jumping Someone Else’s Train'
'Grinding Halt'

the cure were my favorite over the weekend but i must admit that the killers were damn good too ,

Nicely put Craig. Couldn't of said it better myself :)


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