The Cure arrived for its first Honolulu shows in three years having set high expectations: When the group last (and first) came to the Blaisdell Arena in 2013, it put on a three-hour show.
The result was a near sellout Saturday that necessitated a second show being added tonight. Another potential result was disappointment, I suppose, but any such worries were gone pretty quickly as the band took the stage Saturday night at about 8:15 to raucous applause and kept the crowd engaged throughout.
The hits drew the biggest reaction, of course — including frenzied dancing in the aisles that shook the risers — but energy was high from start to finish. The band opened with the driving 1984 album cut “Shake Dog Shake” — a gutsy call for most bands with such a slew of hits at their disposal, but business as usual for the Cure — and won the audience immediately.
They managed to take things a level higher just two songs later with “Push,” featuring some great opening guitar interplay between Reeves Gabrels and frontman Robert Smith and propulsive playing from the rhythm section of Simon Gallup (bass) and Jason Cooper (drums). Roger O’Donnell was sharp throughout on keyboards.
They kept with 1985’s “The Head on the Door” album, tapping their first hit of the evening, “In Between Days,” for one of several unprompted singalongs. Gallup helped propel the action by, well, galloping across the stage. The only member besides resident genius Smith whose membership dates back to the band’s 1980s heyday, Gallup provides the majority of the motion for the Cure (the rest being isolated dancing outbursts by Smith, each one met by whoops from the crowd).
But even in its younger days, the Cure was always more about the music, leaving the dancing to its fans, and on this night it delivered. It wasn’t just the “easy stuff” — every hit sent the crowd into a tizzy. One of the charms of a Cure show is that you never know which of their hundreds of songs they will play. Sure, they’ll never leave out standards such as “Just Like Heaven” or “Lovesong,” but they turn over about two-thirds of their show every night — one way to bring the die-hards back for more and more. And on this night even lesser-known cuts such as “Want,” “One Hundred Years” and “Give Me It” were exciting experiences.
Gabrels shredded his way through those last two, ending the main set 90 minutes after it began. But as expected, the Cure wasn’t nearly done.
After a few minutes the band returned to play one of the two new songs it’s littered among the classics on this tour — “It Can Never Be the Same” — as well as the (un)fairly obscure “Burn,” off the soundtrack to the infamous 1994 flick “The Crow.”
Another short break followed before the band returned with some higher-profile songs — including Billboard Modern Rock chart-toppers “Never Enough” and “Fascination Street” from 1989’s “Disintegration.” The Cure had saved most of its hits for these encores and yet never lost the crowd, making the race to the finish a powerhouse.
The last two encores kept building on that. “Lullaby,” “The Caterpillar,” “The Walk” and a delirious rendition of “Friday I’m in Love” made up the third encore before they unexpectedly (and delightfully) dropped “Let’s Go to Bed” in the midst of their most common closing quartet of “Hot Hot Hot!!!” “Close to Me,” “Why Can’t I Be You?” and “Boys Don’t Cry.”
I’ve long been critical of encores, finding them needy bits of showmanship, but when a band goes on for as long as the Cure did, taking a few short breaks seems appropriate, especially when the encores are so packed with big numbers.
Before “Boys Don’t Cry,” Smith announced it would be their last song (because how else would the audience know for sure?), and after it his band-mates left the stage to their leader alone so he could soak up the aloha, which the crowd gladly delivered after he and his mates gave themselves over for a glorious, unpredictable two hours and 40 minutes — 32 songs in all.
This concert had a real “big show” feel, with great use of multicolored lights and smoke (which even seemed to be lingering in the air before the show’s start), and the sound was big enough to fill the venue or even one twice its size. The Cure no longer packs stadiums, but its music is probably still big enough for them.
Worth noting for fans is the merchandise table, which featured items at (relatively) reasonable prices. The Cure had shirts for $25 and $30. Yes, still more than real-world prices, but low by concert-world standards. And there were other items for as low as $5 (a set of five pins seemed the best bargain).
The band was also magnanimous enough to leave some room on its merch wall for opening act Ivory City, a nice perk for the local band, which delivered a fine half-hour set of its own.
Despite having played together for less than a year, the foursome was cohesive and polished, showing a capability for pop music with an edge, leaking into varied genres. It was quite a coup to land the spot opening for the Cure, but Ivory City proved up to the high-profile gig, its first time playing on the Blaisdell stage. The band’s music can be heard on SoundCloud, but the recorded versions don’t do it justice.
Ivory City went on about 20 minutes before the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start. If you’re going to tonight’s concert, it’s worth showing up in time to see them. As of this morning, seats all over were still available — with prices ranging from $50 to $125 — though few were in the front sections.