In the midst of World Cup fever and one of Britain’s longest heatwaves in living memory, gothic new wave stalwarts The Cure commandeered London’s Hyde Park to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary in spectacular fashion – with the help of the 65,000-strong capacity crowd – bringing a stellar hand-picked lineup of indie pop, alternative rock and shoegaze acts with them for the ride.
With a marathon, career-spanning set loaded with iconic hits and fan-service deep cuts, Crawley’s most famous sons were in full celebration mode throughout, persevering through the punishing heat (“I can’t talk until the sun goes down”, frontman Robert Smith admitted at one point, half-jokingly, “it’s taking all my energy to not dissolve”) to deliver a victory lap that did more than justice to their long and winding legacy as one of the country’s most enduring national treasures.
Kicking off proceedings soon after doors opened were Manchester-based up and comers Pale Waves, whose monochrome aesthetic and romantic synth-heavy sound pay substantial debt to the evening’s headline act. Though sparely attended, their brief set was well received – particularly their swooning, summery debut single, closing number ‘There’s A Honey’ – cementing them as one to watch in the future.
Another early highlight was London’s own Pumarosa, a last-minute addition to the bill at Smith’s own request. Taking to the Barclaycard stage in the centre of the park, band’s pulsing, hypnotic brand of indietronica acted as the perfect soundtrack to the dusty oasis rapidly forming within the festival site, while vocalist Isabel Munoz-Newsome’s captivating, shamanistic stage presence stopped more than a few passers-by in their tracks.
As the time for England’s much-publicised quarter-final against Sweden drew closer – and the more dedicated amongst the crowd found shade under trees to desperately try and stream what they could on iPads and smartphones – post-punk revival figureheads Editors took to the mainstage to perform a confident, no-frills set filled with 00’s indie staples, including the angular guitar workout ‘Munich’. An early airing of the anthemic ‘Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors’ was similarly well received, while the dance-tinged ‘Papillon’ prompted mass singalongs and a particularly neurotic run through ‘The Racing Rats’ represented the set’s emotional apex. Elsewhere, The Twilight Sad’s performance saw the band showcase two new songs – ‘The Arbor’ and ‘VTR’ – alongside established favourites like ‘There’s a Girl in the Corner’, before finishing on a touching cover of Scottish contemporaries Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ in tribute to their recently deceased frontman Scott Hutchison.
By the time the sun – but not the temperature, which remained unrelenting throughout – began to lower, New York City’s recently regrouped purveyors of gloom Interpol emerged with a slick performance that leant heavily on the band’s seminal first two records, Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics. Noting their gratitude to The Cure as a key musical influence and early supporter of their work, the Paul Banks-led outfit’s setlist included a sultry performance of ‘Take You On a Cruise’, the chugging, bass-heavy ‘Rest My Chemistry’ and a blistering ‘Obstacle 1’, which has lost none of its immediacy in the almost 20 years since its release. The surprise highpoint of the set, though, came via a surprise run through of the stately ‘The New’ from the band’s debut; time and maturity has seemingly given Banks’ trademark baritone croon – as well as lyrics such as “I wish I could live free/I hope it’s not beyond me” – more emotional weight. Saving the biggest crowd pleasers for the end, the band closed their impressive set on the one-two punch of Antics singles ‘Evil’ and ‘Slow Hands’, both of which elicited a massive response from the audience.
However, these roars of approval from the packed crowd were soon eclipsed by the arrival of The Cure themselves, who appeared onstage comparatively early for festival headliner (around 8pm) and proceeded to relentlessly fire off song after song right until curfew. Opener ‘Plainsong’, the majestic lead-off track from their masterpiece Disintegration, set the tone for the evening, with the veteran band effortlessly locking into their dreamy, well-worn and heavily layered grooves, awash with shimmering guitars and hazy synths below Smith’s ghostly, ageless voice. Heavy-hitter singles ‘Pictures of You’, ‘High’, ‘The Walk’ and ‘Lovesong’ were played early, subtly reminding everyone that this is a band that have classics to spare, while fan-favourite album tracks ‘A Night Like This’, ‘The End of the World’ and ‘Push’ – the latter’s signature guitar riff being chanted back at the stage in spectacular fashion – also received airings towards the beginning.
It was the double-header of ‘80s mainstays ‘In Between Days’ and ‘Just Like Heaven’ that really raised the momentum, however, with both tunes prompting thousands-strong singalongs that towed the line between simple giddy karaoke and an almost euphoric religious experience; while the audience spanned multiple generations, it’s clear these wistful classics are etched into the memory of almost each and every fan in attendance, and remain hugely important to them.
The rest of the triumphant set carried on in a similar vein, with Smith’s ageless voicealternating seamlessly between greatest hit selections such as ‘A Forest’ and ‘Fascination Street’ with tracks from deeper within their extensive catalogue, including Wish’s slow-burning centrepiece ‘From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea’ and their contribution to The Crow’s soundtrack, ‘Burn’. Ending the main portion of the show on Disintegration’s epic title track, the band soon returned for a lengthy, showstopping encore, filled with the hits they hadn’t yet gotten around to presenting to the dedicated crowd.
A nimble, ethereal ‘Lullaby’ opened the encore – complete with engrossing spiderweb visuals – followed by the pleasingly off-kilter love ballad ‘The Caterpillar’ lovely renditions of two MTV favourites, the deliriously upbeat ‘Friday, I’m in Love’ and a lively ‘Close to Me’. After sealing the deal with debut single and de facto closer ‘Boy’s Don’t Cry’, Smith emotionally thanked the audience for their support over the band’s illustrious career and teased that they shouldn’t worry they’ll be disappearing just yet, before wrapping up with a raucous four-song coda of early rarities ‘Jumping Someone Else’s Train’, ‘Grinding Halt’, ’10:15 Saturday Night’ and ‘Killing An Arab’, ostensibly as a nod to how far the band have come since their inception as a scrappy punk act in the late ‘70s.
While England’s world cup hopes may still hang in the balance, by the time the lights had come on and the crowd were headed for the exits, The Cure’s masterclass in how to headline a major festival date made certain that – for now – at least one British institution will have successfully pulled off a well-earned homecoming this summer.