Robert Smith stood onstage Tuesday evening and let the final notes of the Cure’s “A Night Like This” — in which the 64-year-old goth-rock icon promises, “I want to change” — ring out over the capacity crowd at the Hollywood Bowl.
“The last time we played that,” Smith told the audience, “I thought to myself: Do I really want to change?”
It’s hard to see why he would: Nearly half a century after the release of the British band’s debut single, the Cure is enjoying a moment right now, the kind coveted by pop stars one-third Smith’s age. Tuesday’s gig under cloudy skies was the first of three sold-out dates at the Bowl on a tour for which the Cure sought to keep ticket prices relatively low; Smith’s willingness to publicly criticize Ticketmaster — he even got the company to refund fans for a portion of its much-hated handling fees — has given him something of a folk-hero vibe on social media even as he gets accustomed to being a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted the Cure in 2019.
The tour is building anticipation for a long-promised studio album, the Cure’s first in 15 years; here the band played a handful of impressive new songs, including one Smith said it had never performed before. With its generous blend of hits and deep cuts spread over nearly three hours, though, the Cure’s current live show also feels like expertly designed fan service — this summer’s black-mascara counterpart to Taylor Swift’s splashy and bedazzled Eras tour.
The Cure isn’t the only celebrated survivor from its generation of U.K. post-punk and new wave acts. Depeche Mode is on the road in very fine form behind its strongest LP in years, and just this past weekend Siouxsie (who once counted Smith as a member of her Banshees) made a celebrated return to the American stage at Pasadena’s Cruel World festival. In November, Kate Bush will follow the Cure and Depeche Mode into the Rock Hall thanks in part to last year’s discovery of her old song “Running Up That Hill” by young viewers of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
Why exactly this stuff seems to be in the air comes down to some extent to fortuitous exposure like that and like HBO’s recent use of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” in “The Last of Us.” But there’s also something about this luxuriously gloomy music — the way in which it honors the exuberance of misery — that means it’s always drawing new fans. Of course the idea of goth would continue to reverberate in an era when teenagers just have to pick up their phones to find a reason to be depressed.
Headlining the Bowl almost seven years to the day since the Cure’s previous visit — and wearing a black T-shirt advertising the defunct Hollywood Star Lanes bowling alley — Smith found as much feeling as he ever has in oldies like “Pictures of You” and “Lovesong” as he floated his lovelorn yelp over dreamy overlapping guitar lines. (Though Smith is the band’s sole remaining original member, the Cure’s live lineup — with guitarists Perry Bamonte and Reeves Gabrels, bassist Simon Gallup, keyboardist Roger O’Donnell and drummer Jason Cooper — is long on musicians he’s played with for decades.)
“Charlotte Sometimes” and “Push” were surging rockers riding muscular rhythm-section grooves; “Shake Dog Shake” showed off Smith’s childhood fascination with Jimi Hendrix. At times you could think of the Cure as a sort of emo-psych jam band, stretching out the likes of “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” to find untapped reserves of luscious melancholy.
The Cure’s new songs were both the stormiest and the most sentimental of the night, with florid keyboard licks against synthesized strings that called to mind Aerosmith’s late-’90s power-ballad phase; indeed, the seeds of the grandly emotional “Another Happy Birthday,” which Smith said the Cure was playing for the first time Tuesday, are thought by the group’s most devoted to date back to 1997.
As the clock ticked toward the Bowl’s 11 p.m curfew, Smith and his mates wham-bammed through their biggest hits — “Friday I’m in Love,” delirious with agony; “In Between Days,” shuffling and funky; “Just Like Heaven,” a mad, passionate tumble — before closing with “Boys Don’t Cry,” where the pride Smith still takes in a sense of vulnerability could bring a tear to your eye.
When it was over, the frontman stuck around onstage for a few minutes, soaking up the crowd’s adoration — a renewable resource, it turns out, but not one he sees fit to squander.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.