For more than a quarter-century the Cure has relied upon a sterile sound. The brooding and durable U.K. band's synth-centric output -- sort of electronica minus much of the melody, or industrial with the subwoofer unplugged -- remains as processed as anything in pop.
Yet to the credit of founder, songwriter and go-to goth crooner Robert Smith, generations of kids in the black-fingernail-polish demographic have found the Cure anything but soulless. At Merriweather Post Pavilion on Friday, Smith flaunted his bleak and black consistencies.
Given that the Cure was the last of several acts to take either of the two stages on the barnstorming tour billed as the Curiosa Festival, Smith would deserve kudos had he merely kept everybody awake. But he never even gave the crowd an excuse to sit down at any point in the headlining quintet's 90-minute set.
And though dancing was kept to a minimum -- other than during a late-in-the-show hits binge of "Friday I'm in Love," "Why Can't I Be You" and "Just Like Heaven" -- at times it appeared as if tryouts for the Olympic emoting team were taking place. When, for example, Smith confessed, "I will always love you!" during the beautiful "Lovesong," his worshipers wailed those words right back at him, all the while making the most dramatic hand and facial gestures possible toward the stage.
And when he moped, "I want to change!" on "A Night Like This," a mopefest broke out from in front of the stage to the back of the amphitheater's lawn. But, really now, who among them really wants change?
"Us or Them," a cut from the Cure's latest CD, stood out from everything else in the set only because of the bottom-heaviness of its backing track -- for a few minutes, it was as if somebody let bassist Simon Gallup plug the subwoofer back in. Yet it remains true that one could more easily find change in a parking meter than in the Cure's songbook. "Boys Don't Cry," a cut off the Cure's breakout LP from 1980, blended beautifully with other tunes on the set list that were written decades later.
Smith's influential look hasn't gone through any extreme makeover over the years, either. On this night his coif was as black and bed-headed as in his vintage poster shots, and he came to the stage in the same Halloween makeup he's always applied to his eyes and lips. A good portion of the crowd, of course, came to the venue similarly coifed and made up.
The plea for change wasn't the night's only dishonest utterance. "Alt.end" found Smith singing that he was going away, a threat he's issued repeatedly over the band's history. "I want this to be the end!" Smith whined. And the fans whined the line right back, with feeling. But chances are good that neither could pass a lie detector test.