30 Years Ago Tonight

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Seriously, it wasn’t until we actually got into the Philadelphia Spectrum and passed a merch booth – eyeballing Robert Smith’s pouting, powdered face glowing from an enormous black t-shirt that I realized I was attending my first rock show. Mind you, this was after we parked in one of the vast, darkened lots and passed endless groups of sullen young adults tailgating on our way in. This was even after we had handed over our tickets at entry. I was still flummoxed as to why we were going to a sporting event for my birthday. Ice hockey was pretty cool, but not cool enough to go to on a school night.    

30 years ago tonight, my mom surprised me with a birthday gift I’ll never forget: she took my sister and me to see The Cure, my favorite band at the time, perform live. It was the tail-end of the Prayer Tour, the band supporting the now-classic and personal-favorite, Disintegration. You won’t find September 21 on the back of the tour t-shirt – only the first Philly date, August 23 is listed – but I have the ticket stub to prove it happened. The date appeared to be tacked on towards the tour’s end, presumably “by popular demand”.

Everything about the show blew my soon-to-be-12-year-old mind: they played Disintegration in its entirety (though not in running order), they played scores of old favorites, it was loud, there was a stage set-up and lights, and the kids in the crowd wore such cool clothes. I discovered a newfound appreciation for deep cuts that still, to this day, remind me of that night: “Last Dance”, “Prayers for Rain”, and “The Same Deep Water as You” among them. The epic, reverberating bassline of “Closedown” was a highlight that’s still etched into my brain. Another favorite was a 20-minute version of “A Forest” that ebbed and flowed on Smith’s endless guitar solo, morphing from blistering noise to delicate strumming for, like, 15 whole minutes (see a shorter version from 1992 here).

According to setlist.fm, the band played “The Perfect Girl”, a rather poppy deep cut from the Kiss Me album. I don’t remember that at all. I also recall that they played “Kyoto Song”, but it’s not listed as such. I’m probably wrong on both counts. Funny how some memories can be clear as day and other details just drift away.

Love and Rockets opened the tour, but not on this night. A few dates even included third act Pixies as additional support – deep in their Doolittle prime (all three bands toured the States at that time, joining up for major outdoor shows at venues like Giants Stadium in New Jersey). No matter, I was just happy to be there.

Mom let us sleep in the next day and play hooky from school. She even took us to Repo Records, our favorite record store – then still in Wayne, by the R5 station – so we could load up on even more Cure records. She was now all-in.

My concert-going career could’ve started and ended that night. It was that good.

If you’re at all as nostalgic as I am, you can relive the magic here. Happy Birthday to me!

Things We Like: Valentine’s Edition

The Cure - Wish

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we discuss an album that Elizabeth and I agreed on, oddly, early in our relationship. While there were other more relevant bands and albums that we obsessed and connected over at that time, The Cure was another band further down the list that we could check in the common interests “yes” column.

But while we enthusiastically agreed on Disintegration as masterpiece, we coolly agreed on Wish as a half-great/half-terrible mixed bag. Yet we each felt uneasy holding the latter opinion. Not only because most everyone loved or hated Wish completely, but because choosing a vague “maybe, sort of” left things in a weird, gray area at home: you weren’t ready to relegate the disc to the local used bin but you also didn’t want to display it too prominently in your rack of discs. I was especially sheepish about calling attention to an album that carried a pop hit as massive (and happy) as “Friday I’m in Love.”   

And yet these feelings of ambivalence still linger today. Talking about the record recently, I reflected that the collection of songs on Wish seem wholly uneven, the album an emotional roller coaster ride between happy and sad that dragged you up and down and back and forth with a complete disregard for continuity, pacing or structure. At least up until that point you could count on a Cure album as being completely up or completely down. But this one was all over the place. Liz even called some of the tracks boring, nothing more than incidental music.

So sad, because some of the tracks on there are excellent. For all the flack we’ve given Wish so far, there are some very strong contenders on there—“Open”, “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” and “End” among them. So yes, we gravitate toward the darker, angrier, moodier pieces. And, surprisingly, the album obliges with a handful of solid tracks in that vein. But taking those tracks meant also taking the shiny, happy tracks like “High” and “Doing the Unstuck”—some of their poppiest tracks to date. And at that time, without iTunes or a dubbed cassette to weed out the filler, you were stuck with the whole CD.

Now up until last week we each half-remembered Wish as vaguely, kind of half-good. So to dispel the myths and half-truths, we finally sat down and listened to Wish again in totality. We even made lists of our preferred tracks and regrouped to settle the score. And wouldn’t you know it? We were right. The record splits right down the middle: half happy, half sad. Or if you prefer, half good, half bad.

So to make it official, here’s our break down of how Wish stacks up:

The Cure Wish Breakdown

Things We Like: The Cure’s Faith

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Let’s start by conceding that 1989’s Disintegration is the Cure’s best album. Period. Followed by 1982’s Pornography in a close second place.

So that’s all fine and good, but I think greater attention needs to be paid to their 1981 effort Faith. Yes, their third proper album generally gets lumped in with Seventeen Seconds and Pornography as a prime example of their early goth or post-punk phase (if you’re into easy, lazy musicological name-checking) but that’s about all you read. The former gets some notice for seeing the band veer towards something darker and atmospheric while the latter gets the lion’s share of attention for being, arguably, the pinnacle of bleak, depressing rock music.

Faith is a quiet, introspective affair with a pervading sense of emptiness, confusion, and loss. You could say it’s the calm before the storm that is Pornography, their next record. On that album, the confusion turns to impatience and the creeping tension bottoms out to expose a complete sense of hopelessness that’s transmitted via dissonance, pounding and line after line of cryptic prose hurled in your face. Seriously, my lengthy explanation here is not nearly as verbose as some of the lyrics found on Pornography.

But the songs on Faith are generally shorter and sweeter: some wispy, ethereal moments (“All Cats Are Grey”, “The Funeral Party”) and some catchy, uptempo moments (“Primary”, “Other Voices”,  “Doubt”) anchored by a few darker turns (“Faith”). The album feels more like an extension of post-punk than anything akin to the campy, self-conscious, theatrical world of goth. Much like Joy Division, the songs are generally spare, skeletal arrangements mustering up just enough energy to fill echoing, emptied out rooms; spiky, meandering guitars anchored by throbbing, purposeful bass lines. Compared to the claustrophobic bombast of Pornography, Faith feels downright frail and nearly invisible.

Faith is the perfect record for a snowy afternoon or chilly autumn evening. That said, I suppose it’s no coincidence that I’m reminded of this album on this day. If you haven’t heard it, please do check it out. It’s one of our favorites.