Robert Smith, a reviewer once wrote, is possibly the only rock star on earth who could be recognised by his silhouette. (Speaking as one of the few rock critics who could make a similar claim for themselves, I feel that I ought to applaud this.) Robert Smith's famous shadow is somewhat larger these days (with which, alas, I can also empathise), compared to the pipecleaner-legged shape he cast on the wall in that classic "Boys Don't Cry" sleeve shoot. But I don't only mean this in the literal sense that Fat Bob, try as he might to disguise it with his baggy slacks and loose black shirt, has eaten all the pies and blocks out more of the sun. (This, it must be said, is compensated for by the outrageously youthful and handsome appearance of bassist and co-founder Simon Gallup who, with his tattooed biceps, backwards beret and rock-god poses, looks as though he ought to be in Jane's Addiction.) I mean it in the sense that the longer he continues Being Robert Smith, the more that shadow looms, defines his landscape, blacks out all other options.
Perhaps this predicament - destined to forever walk the earth trapped by his own iconography, rattling chains of his own making, moaning ghostly moans to a script that he wrote - is why, after 25 years, The Cure are finally on the brink of calling it a day with what is rumoured to be their final album, the ironically, knowingly title-free (and unexpectedly excellent) The Cure.
Robert Smith, you see, means something. And not only to people like myself who are old enough to vividly recall The Cure's Eighties heyday, but to successive generations of doom-faced children who weren't even born when "The Lovecats" was scampering around the Top 20, many of whom are dotted around Lancashire's Old Trafford cricket ground today.
Although The Cure's British live comeback (give or take a couple of low-key charity gigs) is the main coup for the organisers, Smith and co aren't the only highlight of the Move weekend, whose bill is top-heavy with dinosaurs of alternative rock. Morrissey, Sunday's headliner, makes Monday's headlines (locally, at least) by celebrating the death of his former headmaster. Goldfrapp battle gamely against the inevitable sub-Pennine downpour but it isn't their day. New York Dolls rock savagely despite a crowd which oscillates between the indifferent and the disrespectful, and despite the absence of the unwell bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane (a few days later, the sad news reaches us that Kane has died). Pixies absolutely tear a hole in the sky. I'm told that even Madness were fun, if you were in the mood for dropping your inhibitions.
But the sweeping, swooning, sublime "Just Like Heaven" rivals Morrissey's similarly romantic "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" as the weekend's mobile phone moment, as a hundred handsets are held aloft, relaying the song to loved ones a hundred miles away. Indeed, despite the quality of the material from The Cure, the atmosphere inevitably comes alive when they break into the hits: "Lovesong", "In Between Days", "Boys Don't Cry" and a curfew-truncated "A Forest" (I once watched them play a 20-minute version in Madrid).
Tucked away among the famous and the new, some unusual gems are mined from The Cure's backcombed back catalogue, such as "Shake Dog Shake" and "100 Years" (there is, it must be said, something glorious about seeing 5,000 people mournfully wailing "It doesn't matter if we all die!"). They have, reportedly, been changing the set every night on their European tour, which bodes well, and Smith bids us farewell with a teasing "see you later in the year". There's life in this shadow yet.
Never mind his silhouette: show most rock fans a full-frontal mugshot of Todd Rundgren and they would still be blankly nonplussed. The career of the phenomenally talented, often perverse, endlessly fascinating man who once proclaimed himself to be the new Beatles has taken a strange course, adjacent to the path of fame, but only occasionally intersecting with it.
Rundgren is the Zelig of rock, present at many momentous events in musical history (although, unlike Woody Allen's hapless hero, he was an active protagonist rather than an unwitting bystander). As well as making bittersweet psych-pop with his bands The Nazz and Utopia, and releasing the classic solo albums Something/Anything and A Wizard, A True Star, Rundgren produced Sparks's Kimono My House, the second New York Dolls album, albums by The Ramones, Cheap Trick and Patti Smith, and somehow also found time to be father to Liv Tyler (although not biologically). Most lucratively, he produced Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell (and recently financed his new studio by selling his stake in it).
He has, it must be said, also worked on a right load of cobblers, from Celine Dion to Bad Religion, but this can-do spirit is integral to Todd. This is the other sense in which he resembles Zelig: Rundgren is a consummate mimic, who believes he can turn his gnarled hands to anything.
The thing is, he's right. So, when he stomps out onstage in five-inch platforms, floor-length frock coat, sci-fi goggles and black/white hair, looking for all the world like a druid from Gallifrey (his band, the Liars, are dressed as a cardinal, a priest, an unspecified religious leader from the orient and another from the subcontinent), and launches into a first set which echoes the industrial techno-rock intensity of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails (full of angry, politicised songs with titles like "Fascist Christ"), we shouldn't be surprised. Improvisation and imitation are his forte. You've got a style? Todd can do it. At one moment, he actually starts rapping (surprise surprise, he's good at that too), and at another point, comically, pinches his nose to create a vocoder effect.
Impressive as this may be, the casual ticket-buyer might nevertheless have expected something a little more sedate from the 56-year-old writer of such soft-rock weepies as "Can We Still Be Friends?", "I Saw The Light" and "Mated". But the hits (such as they are) are never what you'll get from Todd. Playing it straight is not his game. Tonight, aside from a cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and an encore of The Nazz's "Hello It's Me", there's precious little which wasn't written within the last decade.
The pomp-goth first section is followed by a costume change (golden crocodile shoes, latino zoot suits), and a stylistic shift to smooth white soul in the manner of Hall and Oates (another Todd-produced act). As he chops out the soul licks on his guitar with frightening ease and sings in a sweet falsetto which seems incongruous coming from a man of his towering stature, I can suddenly see just why Prince reveres him so highly.
Todd Rundgren: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (0161 907 9000), tonightReuse content