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Disintegration 30th Anniversary

Sydney Opera House, Vivid Live, May 24

Disintegration a classic album? For that is what underpins this run of five shows playing the 1989 Cure album from soup to nuts (with extras).

On grounds of significance: for the band as it sailed past three million copies world-wide; for a generation of fans who had been late to the early albums of pop-turned-gloom but discovered the joys of happy grimness; for a subsequent flow of bands who mined and expanded the material for goth pop and even a branch of neo-metal – yes, undoubtedly.

Disintegration a great album? No. As this night showed, its peaks are impressive but its flaws are not easily wished away, or distracted from. Though not, you would have to say, for lack of trying by Robert Smith’s current lineup of longtime bassist and tattooed man of action Simon Gallup, drummer Jason Cooper, keyboardist Roger O’Donnell, and relative new boy of seven years, guitarist Reeves Gabrels.

Indeed, for a while it looked like they might just pull off the miracle of making the original record’s second side if not brilliant then at least kinetic enough to pull us through. Helped by the kind of devotion in an audience that offers a standing ovation on arrival and regularly comes close to repeating it for the next two hours.

The pleasures, like the standing O, were there from the start, particularly in the way Pictures Of You picked up the promise of Plainsong and felt like a vibration of pleasure. The guitars danced like they were having their last chance, the bass came high and buoyant, the drums stayed mechanically insistent.

Closedown and Lovesong, the latter dogged in its optimism; the former springing surprising euphoria from the room on the back of those rising, rising drums, were expansive. Last Dance and Lullaby (which even saw Smith dance) shook lightness from potential sludge and Fascination Street balanced a metallic edge, a receding melody and a throw forward to hard rock, with an energy that was still outward and never less than danceable.

It was around this time that a friend elsewhere in the room messaged me to declare Smith “an amazing performer”, an incongruous description given his minimal expression and movement generally. Yet it was nonetheless true. How did he do that? Was it his compelling solidity among the spinning lights and hyperactive Gallup? Was it the way a sideways glance could hint at humour? Or was it a voice which retains its power and could rise to pin us back?

In any case, that power is what controlled Prayers For Rain and almost obscured the fact that it is not that good a song. But then, it was from that point that the problems began to build even with this charismatic centre and the none-more-Cure elements of low-slung/high note bass and rising clouds of synthesisers given thrust by circular drum patterns.

The Same Deep Water As You was hollow and drawn out, Disintegration was carried by momentum and the reward for the attention paid to getting the sound marvellously right in this problematic room, Homesick was a dormant lullaby wending its way in familiar colours but on unsteady feet, and Untitled was meandering and flavourless.

The album set ended on this less than ideal point, the room willing itself into believing this was a peak and offering another standing ovation, already anticipating an encore of some obscurities and some gems from the wider catalogue.

Not so fast. Spread across eight songs and not that much short of an hour, this encore was for completists and trainspotters, and patient ones at that. There were two unreleased instrumentals from the Disintegration sessions – the second of which at least had the energy of the album’s first half – a b-side, Fear Of Ghosts, which Smith says they should have played more at that time (though there was little evidence to justify that), a couple of powerful if anonymous rock songs, and an unlikely, and unnecessary sea shanty called Pirate Ships.

We would have been better off without an encore at all, rather than one which saw the night and its energy dribble away. But then, if you were brutal about Disintegration you’d say that’s what the album itself did, and not even a show this good for its first 45 minutes could fix that.

The Cure play Disintegration May 28 and May 30. The May 30 show will be live streamed via Facebook and YouTube from 8pm AEDT.

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