Last Night... The Cure @ Red Rocks

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The Cure and 65daysofstatic Wednesday, May 21 Red Rocks

By any objective measure, the new, economy size Robert Smith is a tepid performer. Onstage during an achingly lovely spring evening at Red Rocks, the Cure's frontman and reason for continuing existence moved a bit like the Gingerbread Man in Shrek -- awkwardly, lumberingly, as if he was afraid that his leg might rip off at the thigh if he took too large or abrupt a step. It's fortunate for him, then, that the sold-out throng packing the amphitheater demonstrated no objectivity whatsoever when it came to the shock-haired icon. His collected fans adored him unreservedly, and by the end of the group's generous set, he'd justified their love in a clumsy but ultimately endearing way.

Ticket-buyers mainly skewed to their forties and fifties. My fifteen-year-old daughter, Lora, who kindly accompanied me to the gig, decided to amuse herself by counting people who she figured to be teenagers or younger, and over the course of the evening, she only got to twenty. Fortunately, she recognized several fellow students from her high school among this number, and because plenty of twenty- and thirty-somethings eager to eyeball the goth granddaddies were on hand, too, she eventually felt somewhat less like the odd person out.

In that sense, she was luckier than the members of 65daysofstatic, the opening act. To put it mildly, this wasn't the ideal demographic for a combo that specializes in arty, often noisy post-rock instrumentals, and lead guitarist Joe Shrewsbury knew it. After the outfit's first song, he attempted to ingratiate himself via self-deprecation by announcing, "We're here to waste thirty minutes of your time." The brief set that followed was a bit better than that. The band's use of slow-fast dynamics fell short of surprising, but the music's contrast between prettiness and brutality proved appropriately ambient, allowing most of the audience to jaw amiably, albeit at high volume, while biding their time for the main attraction to arrive.

This moment was supposed to be dramatic, but it didn't quite work out that way. Even after the lights aimed at the seating area were doused and moody smoke begain wafting over the stage, the p.a. system continued to blast, of all things, "So Far Away" by Carole King. Once that problem was solved, Smith and his cohorts -- guitarist Porl Thompson, bassist Simon Gallup and drummer Jason Cooper -- launched into a batch of mid-tempo ditties that steered well clear of big hits: "Prayers For Rain," from 1989's Disintegration, "The End of the World," from 2004's self-titled disc, etc. And when Smith belatedly dipped into some of the better known items in his catalogue, he initially stuck to compositions that encouraged swaying, not bouncing -- among them "Lovesong" and "Pictures of You." (Also included was some new material, including the passable but fairly undistinguished "Perfect Boy.") The players delivered the numbers laconically, with Thompson, clad in shiny black pants and stacked heels that might have given Heidi Klum fits, and Gallup, in a sleeveless, tat-bearing t-shirt, remaining on opposite sides of the stage, with Smith in the middle, shifting in place only when absolutely necessary. At one point, he made a couple of half-hearted dance moves that drew an enormous whoop from his boosters, who seemed grateful to see him at least briefly making an effort.

Since the effects were pretty much limited to projections on the rocks behind the instrumentalists, most of them static, the show as a whole was about as visually stimulating as the average edition of Meet the Press. And yet the Cure's trademark sound, rendered even more sinuously bass-heavy live than on recordings, held the congregants' attention until Smith at last decided that turning himself into a jukebox wasn't such a bad thing, particularly given the enjoyable slabs of wax at his disposal. In short order, the band slammed out oodles of tunes from the pop side of his personality: "The Walk," "Friday I'm in Love," "In Between Days," "Never Enough" and "Hot Hot Hot!!!," which, on this night, sounded remarkably (and comically) like "Another One Bites the Dust."

Smith didn't quite yelp the lyrics with the exuberance he managed at the time of the tracks' original release. Indeed, he pretty much talked his way through "Just Like Heaven." But his devotees didn't mind. They knew all the words anyhow, and their glee was transformative. When Smith's still-straggly hair blew around in the Red Rocks breeze, bald spots were occasionally visible through the frayed strands, and overall, he looked about as physically fit as Dom Deluise. But his oddities proved charming, not off-putting, at least for the generation that spent their college years frugging at dorm parties to "Boys Don't Cry." As for my daughter, her take was different, but just as valid. "I liked him," she said afterward. "He was a funny old man."

You said a mouthful, missy. -- Michael Roberts

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