Three of The Cure’s most admired and influential albums performed live in their entirety to sell-out crowds over two memorable nights in the Tempodrom Berlin, November 2002; a three-hours-plus epic captured in Hi Definition video and 5.1 surround sound.
eyelights: the concept. The Hanging Garden. Cold. The Same Deep Water As You. Homesick. Maybe Someday. Bloodflowers.
eyesores: the band’s presence (or lack thereof). the mix.
“The albums Pornography, Disintegration and Bloodflowers are inextricably linked in so many ways, and the realisation of this Trilogy show is one of the highlights of my time in The Cure.” – Robert Smith
In November 2002, The Cure performed three concerts featuring full recreations of their seminal albums ‘Pornography’, ‘Disintegration’, and ‘Bloodflowers’. One was in Bruxelles, two others were in Berlin, at the Tempodrom arena. Because this was a monumental event, the concerts were filmed for posterity’s sake. The resulting DVD and Blu-ray consists of the Berlin shows.
I first heard The Cure when the friend of a girl I had a crush on brought her tape of ‘Disintegration’ to a party we were having. This was a totally new sound for me, so I didn’t quite get it at first. Still, for reasons unknown I somehow felt compelled to pick it up, to explore the band a bit. Then I picked up the compilations ‘Mixed Up’ and ‘Standing on the Beach/Staring at the Sea’.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around much of their output, in particular that last set, which was a compilation of singles on the one side and a series of rare b-sides on the other – it was dark, brooding, weird, twisted, groovy, energetic. While I found it fascinating enough to return to it time and time again, and it eventually grew on me, it would be many years before I moved beyond those tapes.
Meanwhile, ‘Disintegration’ would become one of my all-time favourite albums (it still comfortably rests in the top 5 to this day). But it wouldn’t be until I picked up ‘The Head on the Door’ that I decided to plunge deep into The Cure’s discography. Before then, I had heard ‘Wish’, the follow-up to ‘Disintegration’, and found it underwhelming; it had stopped me dead in my tracks.
What inspired me to pick up ‘The Head on the Door’ (aside from the low asking price), I don’t quite recall, but I was blown away by it – and soon thereafter started to seek out anything else by The Cure, eventually picking up their whole discography in special edition formats, along with boxed sets, videos and DVDs. I became a minor fan of The Cure, and by the time this show came out, I was excited.
And yet, I’m not a die-hard aficionado: for every ‘Disintegration’, there was ‘Wish’, for every ‘The Head on the Door’, there was ‘The Top’. And I’m not even a fan of ‘Pornography’ or ‘Bloodflowers’, either: aside from a couple of tracks on each, I find them dismal listening experiences. Frankly, I tended to like the more playful, quirky side of the band, often found on their non-album singles.
Still, drawn like a moth to a flame to this epic three-part show by the allure of a live rendition of ‘Disintegration’, and the basic concept, I simply had to pick this up. I first bought it on DVD, and watched it in one go. But, when it was subsequently released on blu-ray , which had the advantage of the whole show being on one disc (instead of two, like the DVD was) and in uncompressed audio, I felt the need to upgrade my copy.
It would sound amazeballs on BD! And that was reason enough for me.
It eventually took me a full two and half years before I finally got around to it. Sure, there was the small matter of the hundreds of other viewing material on my slate (as anyone reading this blog can surmise), but what was the most daunting fact was that this is a three-hours-plus set – you really have to be in the mood for it. Plus which, from what I recalled, The Cure didn’t exactly have the most dynamic stage presence.
I had to work myself up to it, to prepare myself mentally.
It’s a good thing that did, too, because the show was everything I remembered it to be: The Cure mostly stood there, playing their instruments efficiently but dispassionately, rarely moving about – as though they were dutifully going through their set, but not putting their hearts into it. Of course, they’re mainstays of the goth movement (even though I’m loathe to brand them that way), so what could one expect? Fireworks and dancing girls?
What audiences were treated to was a band mostly fixed in place (I suspect that Roger was mentally preparing his grocery list while playing), with a rudimentary and largely unobtrusive array of screens playing in the background. Set in a bar, a show like this likely would have had people nursing drinks, people-watching and chatting with friends. Wedged together in a vast arena this audience were as rooted in place as I was cemented to my couch.
Amusingly enough, in the disc’s interview section, Robert Smith says that he’s never played with a more dynamic line-up than this version of The Cure. And subtle, he also said subtle. For me, it was possibly too subtle, and I can’t even begin to imagine what The Cure would have been like in their previous incarnations if they were less spirited. It frankly boggles the mind to even try to imagine it.
Roger says that he was frequently asked why they were so serious while doing these shows and he said that you just had to be in a particular emotional state to do this series of concerts – they are, after all, three very heavy albums. Robert added that doing them in Berlin also contributed to the heaviness given not just its history but its overall vibe, which he describes as being very black and white.
It was a conscious decision to go to Berlin for the shows, because he said that these albums would lose much of their flavour if they played, for instance, outdoors in the sun – in Barcelona, in a tapas bar. I must say that he’s right; it was likely a good decision. But, between the grim environment, the tension of playing a massive set and the material (some of which had not been played in forever), it created a less-than-joyous atmosphere.
Bizarrely enough, although some of the band members (in particular, Simon and Roger) had been in the band for a long time, it felt to me as though they were hired hands – that there wasn’t a very cohesive band dynamic on hand. Having said that, it’s mostly Robert’s band, and he’s the poster child for it, with his nest of hair, thick mascara and waxy lipstick, looking dumpy and sweaty, like a creepy late-period Elizabeth Taylor.
What was amazing to me was how clear his voice came through in the mix. I wanted to play the show relatively loud to hear every note (and fretted about my neighbours the whole way through), but his voice seemed unusually prominent, booming over the rest of the music. It wasn’t as though it blanketed it, it’s just that it’s rare that I’ve watched shows mixed like this. It prevented me from playing the music as loud as I’d have liked.
The band landed on stage unannounced with an explosive rendition of “One Hundred Years”, moving about erratically (except Smith, who just stood there, backed by spinning lights. There was a lot of shaky cam going on here; it was abrupt, dramatic. Then things settled with “Short Term Effect”, which had a psychedelic vibe going for it. The set didn’t really pick up until the end, with an incredible “Cold”, all synth heaviness; it was lovely, impressive.
The album closer, “Pornography” was appropriately noisy, dissonant, but it started with a tremendous instrumental bit. I was never a fan of the album, not quite like some people are (some claim it as the first goth album, and the start of a movement), so I’m probably not the best judge of whether or not this is an accurate portrayal of the album. All I know is that it was breezy and was pleased that it didn’t last any longer; eight songs was enough.
Robert thanked the crowd and announced: “See you in seven years!”. The Cure purposely took breaks between the albums. There was a concern about losing momentum, but it was felt that it would be more appropriate to define the albums, to separate them from each other. I think that was the right decision, although it must have been relatively tedious for concert-goers, who had to wait – it must have been an extremely long show!
‘Disintegration’ is my album, of course, and I found this set more polished, slicker – no doubt due to the larger use of synthesizers throughout. The band played it well, but something was missing for me – I found it good, not great. Not remotely as good as the live recordings from the era are. My biggest disappointment is that “Lovesong”, one of my all-time favourite songs, lacked zest – it’s supposed to be a fun pop ditty. It wasn’t.
Again, the band barely moved (Roger, get yourself a strap-on keyboard!) (Kidding…), so this didn’t help. When I listen to the concerts I don’t have a mental picture of them staying in one place. Hardly. Still, they did a superb rendition of “The Same Deep Water As You”, and “Homesick”, which was mostly instrumental, with nice jams in it. Too bad about “Fascination Street” though, which usually has a deep bass drive but didn’t here.
The Cure then left with “Thank you. Another 11 years” – the time between the release of ‘Disintegration’ and ‘Bloodflowers’ (just as seven years was the time between ‘Pornography’ and ‘Disintegration’. I wish I knew exactly how long the band was off stage, but by that point for the audience it must have felt like ages before they returned. They finally returned for their closing set, the ‘Bloodflowers’ album.
I have mixed feelings about this one: This particular line-up recorded the album together and it shows on stage – they are more at home with it, more alive. It’s their album. On the other hand, I don’t find the songs nearly as compelling, aside from a couple of them. And I”m not so sure if I’m a fan of the acoustic sound that pervades much of it. It’s not acoustic, per se, but acoustic guitar is incorporated much more here.
Still, as a show, it was more fun to watch, even if I found the set rather bland. It was decent in the beginning, and the band were particularly vibrant during the exceedingly long “Watching Me Fall”, but only the delightful “Maybe Someday” perked things up for me until the very last song, “Bloodflowers”, which I consider one of the standout recordings of their last two decades – it’s such a moody, textured piece.
The band did a couple of encores. In Bruxelles, they only did two songs, but they did two encores at both of the Berlin shows. For some reason only the one encore is included on the DVD and BD: a one-two punch of “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” and “The Kiss” – the first moody, with nice guitar parts to it, and the second incredibly raucous, in that supremely satisfying way.
Why the other encore set was not included I don’t know, but they’re not even referred to in the interview section, as though it didn’t exist. In fact, even the Bruxelles show is ignored, with the band referring to the Berlin shows as a one-time thing. And yet it’s a confirmed fact that they did a third show and there are setlists all over the interweb that prove that they did more than just a two -song encore. So why hide it?
By that time I was spent, but I would likely have been happy to see this anyway. I was already totally impressed with the amount of material the band played, but anything more would have been terrific; they certainly have earned my respect for doing what they did, even if I don’t like all of it – it’s a document like none other, and even if I don’t watch it per se, I will play it again for the audio.
I can only imagine how die-hard fans of The Cure must feel about this show. It must be a total wet dream to have seen the band perform all three of these albums in full, sequentially, as they did. For the lucky few who could be there, it must have been one of the most memorable concerts experiences they’ve ever had (if not the most). I’m not sure if I would recommend it to non-fans, however: it’s a slog, and you really have to enjoy the music to dig this.
PS: for those considering a purchase of the blu-ray, there is one massive flaw in the mastering of the disc, and it’s the fact that the encore set is part of the special features – meaning that, just as they’re about to start playing the encore, the shows stops. Then you have to go to the special features and pick the songs individually. The credits are also separated that way. And yes, I used the “Play All” function from the start – for reasons that boggle the mind, the people at Eagle Vision fragmented the show instead of keeping it whole. It’s annoying as heck, especially after more than three hours of watching – by then you just want it to unfold smoothly.
PPS: Also, the interviews and Alternate Camera Angle shots are in regular definition – they weren’t remastered for this release. Not a biggie, in my estimation, but it might be a factor if you’re buying the disc for the enhanced picture quality. Thankfully the show proper looks -and sounds- amazing. As expected.
Date of viewing: October 17, 2013