The Cure: Bestival Live 2011

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The Cure
Bestival Live 2011
(Play It Again Sam)

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The Cure’s Bestival Live 2011 finds a stripped-down four-piece lineup of the group in jukebox form, cranking out a nearly two-and-a-half-hour festival set loaded with an obscene amount of classics.

It’s a credit to the band that they’re able to make a good number of their more densely arranged songs work with minimal instrumentation. “Fascination Street” somehow holds up despite being played on a single guitar. The re-addition of keyboardist Roger O’Donnell was surely a smart move, as he nobly picks up the rest of the slack (there’s probably no other way “Plainsong,” “The Lovecats” or “Friday I’m In Love” could have stayed afloat — need I mention “A Forest”!?). The rarely-played “The Caterpillar” is given a jaunty, dreamy rendition, and later-period single “End of the World” works quite well.

But the real downfall here is that, overall, things sound a little weak. The last time the band put out a live album was in 1993, at the height of their power as an expansive live act. There may have been more members back then, but it’s still a staggering comparison.

Robert Smith’s voice may not be as graceful as it used to be, but it’s still unmistakably him, and Simon Gallup’s bass is as driving as ever. But Jason Cooper’s drums, while precise, have always suffered from a terrible lifelessness live (and the stick-click cues that start nearly every song actually get a little annoying). O’Donnell’s keyboards are great, though at times sound a little dinky when they should be more bold. Smith’s guitar could even use a bit more heft, be it more distortion, more echo – anything. If the band at least had a little more fire in it, these things could probably have been excused.

There is some redemption to be found in the energetic closing Three Imaginary Boys-era encore. The transition from “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” into “Grinding Halt” is fantastic – Smith’s self-sensorship does him in at the end with the titular lyric in “Killing An Arab” is changed to “Killing Another.”

For a band that so long defended the meaning behind the song – an interpretation of Camus’ “The Stranger” – it’s baffling and almost shameful that they’re bowing to political correctness, ruining the song’s commentary in the process.

The Cure have much better live albums than this, and though it captures the spirit of the very well-played performance, any of them would be more recommended.

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