Concert Review: The Cure with special guests The Twilight Sad, Xcel Energy Center, June 7th 2016

Despite my recently and well documented problems with concert anxiety, on Tuesday evening, I found myself situated in the Xcel Energy Center for a performance by The Cure, with special guests The Twilight Sad.

The venue

I’d never been to the Xcel Energy Center before, and my wife was told by a co-worker that it is slightly nicer than its counterpart in Minneapolis — the Target Center. And yes, to some extent, that is correct. The lobby and hallways are better kept, and the bathroom, while small, was not terribly disgusting. However, the actual seating area itself was another story altogether.

We had bad seats. I’ll just be honest about that. We were in section 213. This is the hand Ticketmaster dealt me when I was buying tickets. But here’s the thing: when this show went on sale a long time ago, it was originally plotted as a “theater” seating concert, meaning the venue was set up so the stage wasn’t even in the middle of the arena. By the next day, however, the arrangement had changed already, and it was set up with the stage in the middle, to accommodate more seats. By the end, the stage had been moved a third time, pushed all the way back to one end of the arena, allowing for even more ticket sales, and making it so those of us who didn’t have great seats anyway, had even worse seats on the day of the show.

Also, what’s up with how steep the incline is on the upper level? I took one look down upon the floor from where we entered in to find our seats and I was nearly overcome by a horrible case of vertigo.

The crowd

We assumed we’d be some of the youngest people there, seeing as how The Cure were big in the 1980s and for part of the 1990s. However, this was not the case, as there were people much younger in the audience — specifically young children who had been brought by their cool parents. I guess school’s out for the summer? But I mean who brings their, like, six year old daughter to a Cure concert? That’s just bad parenting.

I also figured everyone would be wearing black. But that also was not the case. Sure, there were some goth girls all decked out in knee-high boots and corsets and lots of make up, but it was mostly just regular ass people trying to have a good night out.

Also, despite Ticketmater’s and the Xcel Energy Center’s best efforts, this was not a sold out show. There were lots of empty seats along the sides on the first level, as well as a smattering of empty seats in the second level.

The bands

I saw The Twilight Sad four years ago play for 200 people at the 7th Street Entry. Their third album, No One Can Ever Know had just come out, and it was their first headlining American club tour. It was intimate, visceral, and cathartic. They were loud, raw, and genuinely happy to be playing for a small, but excited crowd.

Four years later, the band has been plucked to open for both North American and European dates for The Cure. “Thank you for coming early,” said frontman James Graham on more than one occasion during their 30 minute opening set, playing to a sparse crowd that had gathered early, as more people slowly filed in in the darkness to find their seats.

I wasn’t quite sure how the band’s sound and affect would translate to an arena setting, but it worked well. Graham had command of the stage, flailing around wildly during instrumental breaks, while guitarist Andy MacFarlane stood still, creating cacophonic walls of feedback and dissonance on his guitar.

Sticking to material primarily from the band’s first album, as well as its most recent from 2014, there was little chatter in between songs, and the feedback from one carried into the next. Despite playing to a nearly empty venue and hour before the main act went on, The Twilight Sad seemed genuinely grateful to be on the tour, and on stage in St. Paul.

As for The Cure, I feel like it’s worth mentioning that neither my wife nor myself are like HUGE fans. We went through a phase about 10 years ago where we played their greatest hits album a lot, and became very familiar with those songs. And so when tickets for this show (their first in the Twin Cities in 20 years, apparently) I thought, “oh won’t this be fun to see a band we both kind of like?”

As it turns out, we aren’t very well versed in the deep canon of The Cure. The band has released 13 studio albums — its last arriving in 2008. As not even casual fans, a bulk of the THREE HOUR set list was lost on us. Including the unprecedented four encores, the band played 34 songs total, including the standard crowd pleasers, “Just Like Heaven,” “In Between Days,” “Lovesong,” and “Pictures of You,” as well as “Lullaby” and “The Walk.”

But then there were a lot of songs we didn’t know, from Cure albums that I am not familiar with. Some of them killed the pacing of the show, like the trudging “Snakepit,” and a majority of them were kind of loud and dissonant — something that I never really associated with The Cure.

The main set lasted 90 minutes, and the band took their time hobbling back out for the first encore, hitting the stage again slightly after 10 p.m. We stayed for the first set of three additional songs, including a brand new one called “It Can Never Be The Same.” As it got closer to 10:30 p.m. the band left the stage again, and my wife said, “Maybe they’ll come back out and play some songs we know.”

We left, though, as the second encore was starting. And as we made the lengthy trek across the venue, across the street and down to the lowest level of the parking garage, The Cure actually did play songs we knew as their marathon set continued: bringing out the hilarious “Wrong Number” and “Burn” during the third encore, then closing with the double shot of “Why Can’t I Be You” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” wrapping up probably around 11:30 p.m, which was when we were pulling in our driveway after the 45 minute commute back home.

Pushing 60, Robert Smith still sounds great, and much to our surprise, his voice is still strong enough to withstand the punishment of a three hour performance.

As my wife pointed out, The Cure are more of a “standing around” band. Smith, and lead guitarist Gabriel Reeves are positioned near their pedal boards, rarely leaving their posts. Bassist Simon Gallup is another story. Practically one of the original members of The Cure, Gallup can’t stand still. The dude was ALL OVER THE FUCKING STAGE, thrusting his bass out into the audience, climbing up on the monitors by the drum risers, and stalking all around trying to “jam out” with Smith and Reeves. The Cure do not make “jam out” music, and therefore, Gallup looked like he belonged in a different, more energetic band. Despite his enthusiasm, his stage antics were incredibly distracting to the rest of the show.

30+ years into their career, The Cure have also come to rely on spectacle quite a bit, with an alarming amount of lighting effects and specific visuals playing on video screens in back of them during their show. It’s big and it looks expensive (it probably is) and it’s just kind of ironic the status the band has reached because at one point, Robert Smith absolutely loathed the band had become popular enough to fill a venue that size.

The verdict

Are The Cure relevant in 2016? They haven’t released an album in almost a decade, and are kind of touring on their name recognition right now, sliding in one new song into a set of hits and deep cuts that appeal to their longtime fans as well as people like me who say, “Oh, The Cure. I have heard of them.”

Adding a St. Paul show to their itinerary was an afterthought — it was not on the docket of originally announced dates. And at this stage in the game, even for a casual fan, what are the odds that you will see The Cure perform again in the near future? By no means a ‘farewell tour,’ but with a generous three hour running time, what are Robert Smith and company trying to prove, if anything?

In the end, I went to a concert in a large venue in a huge crowd of people, and I survived, despite the waves of anxiety regarding the situation I faced before, during, and after the show. On the way there, there was an accident of some kind, as well as road construction, on the highway, so after trying to sneak around it, so after having a quick dinner (while sitting in our car in the parking garage) and making the long walk to our seat, we barely made it by the time The Twilight Sad took the stage, promptly at 7:30 p.m.

Even with the ‘hits’ sprinkled in The Cure’s set, I found myself clock watching as it went on with more songs that sounded the same that I didn’t know. Probably an hour or so in, I was starting to think about doing everything in reverse: trying to get back across the street to the garage, getting back onto the highway, the long dark commute back home, et. al.

But for a longtime fan of the band, or someone who probably has even rudimentary knowledge of their canon, I’m sure a three hour concert was probably a most enjoyable way to spend a Tuesday evening.

Photos taken from the Xcel Energy Center's Facebook page because I sure as shit was nowhere near close enough to take good photos. My phone remained in my pocket during the entirety of the show.