The crowd for The Cure is very, very small. There’s room to dance, stretch legs and swing a few cats at the front for our Friday headliners, but the look of anticipation on the faces of those in attendance is changed to one of wonder when the lights go down and The Cure start their set. First comes ‘Open’, then ‘High’, later ‘Lovesong’ and ‘Pictures Of You’ – the opening hour and a half is an exhibition of their finest material from the late 80s and early 90s, playing heavily from ‘Wish’ and ‘Disintegration’, making no apologies for the gloom being dealt with only a few upbeat hits to break it up. The smoke, sharp lights and increasingly ragged appearance of frontman Robert Smith make it a hypnotising spectacle, full of passion and love. He barely speaks, but sings with all the lure and lyrical poignancy that he did when these songs were recorded – his voice barely sounds different at 53 to when he recorded ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ as a teenager.
A sequence of ‘Wish’ songs ending with the intense and mesmerizing ‘From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea’ forges a natural break in the set where the baton is passed back to older material and some of the band’s more obscure cuts. Quite a few of the bands biggest hits are already out of the way and having just been mobilised by the timeless ‘Friday I’m In Love’, this is the point where some of the crowd began to waver. The band, however play on, and power through to an encore of chirpy early material including ‘The Lovecats’ and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ which ends the mammoth set on a real high for everyone.
It’s a strange pacing that excludes the uninitiated and wilfully falls outside of the mold for a modern Reading headliner; no mass singalong to a current hit and no comment from Fearne Cotton about how they’ve always been one of her favourites. For this reason The Cure probably won’t, and probably shouldn’t, headline Reading and Leeds again but as a one-off this engrossing set reminded the festival of its roots and the source of inspiration for so much of its current crop. Underappreciated on the night but enduring and essential for British alternative music and a beacon of hope for young artists who think they’re too weird to make it big. Duncan Geddes