A member of The Cure once told me to cheer up. Which I thought revealed a lot about his band. For all their status as superstars of goth, The Cure's signature trait has always been an ability to knock out jolly pop tunes, as the cutesy "End of the World" reminds us tonight, four songs into an epic (but, by Cure standards, brief) 100-minute set.
The NME has given Robert Smith & co this year's "Godlike Genius" award and put them at the top of this Big Gig bill. "Genius"? That word needs careful rationing. If anyone was a genius from the first wave of the G-word, it was Smith's old pal Siouxsie, but she was never quite cuddly enough for mainstream consumption. The Cure were always the goth band for Italian tourists, the easy way in.
Whatever else he may be, Robert Smith is a supreme salesman, a poster-shifter, a marketer of his own persona. Swamped in baggy combats and a hoody, topped with that iconic birds' nest, chubby fingers dawdling along the frets, oversized shoes kicking the flange pedal, wonky lips wailing into the abyss – another way of describing Britain's most larcenous venue (£4.50 for an alcopop!) – he's appealingly pitiful, like a forlorn mutt on a Dogs Trust ad. And girls lap that stuff up, always have, always will.
Sidekick Simon Gallup, the Sexiest Man In Goth for at least six years, is a fine figure still, his spidery hair now swept into a Cochran quiff, but the bassist is out-cooled nowadays by guitarist Porl Thompson, who has mutated into a transvestite Dr Evil: asymmetric eye-paint, striped scalp, paisley hand tattoos, ra-ra skirt over trousers, and a pair of deadly stack-heeled brogues. It occurs to me that The Cure, currently a lean quartet with no keyboardist, have never looked such a "unit", at least not since their "Disintegration" (both capital "d" and lower-case).
"A Forest", deployed surprisingly soon, clocks in at a mere 5 minutes 30 seconds (I've heard it last four times as long), after which Smith announces the special concept for tonight's gig: they'll be playing just one song from each of their 13 albums. This is simultaneously great and terrible news. On the one hand, it means the set will stretch back from current release 4:13 Dream to Three Imaginary Boys, all of 30 years ago (we get the title track), from recent single "Sleep When I'm Dead" to their still-controversial debut "Killing an Arab". On the other hand, it entails some terrible sacrifices. For example, the opening drum roll from "Inbetween Days" means we won't be hearing "Close To Me". And the dizzy romance of "Just Like Heaven" is bittersweet, because it means we won't hear anything else from Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, my favourite Cure album: a heady double disc of rose petals and incense, an album you can recline into (oh, what I'd give to hear them play that in its entirety).
Sometimes, the selection is spot-on. From 1982's classic Pornography, when they really put the "creepy" into Crawley, we get "One Hundred Years", featuring the almost comically morose opening line "It doesn't matter if we all die..." This psychedelic gloom was the authentic Sound of the Suburbs: taking acid in semi-detached box bedrooms in Surrey and "waiting for the death-blow". They ditch the concept at the end, with an encore which features four more songs from their debut, including "Boys Don't Cry" and "Jumping Someone Else's Train". Rules are there to be broken.
My first thought upon reviewing a concert by Amadou & Mariam, a blind couple from Mali in their fifties, is that I'm no more qualified to do it than is the umpire of a medieval jousting tournament to officiate at a session of crown green bowls. I'm very wrong.
There are a number of reasons why this couple are now playing to packed British venues. In addition to a record deal with Warner subsidiary Nonesuch, their steady rise has been assisted by the patronage of Manu Chao (who produced their fifth album), Damon Albarn (who produced parts of their eighth) and Scissor Sisters (who took them on tour in 2007), and even Fifa (who chose A&M to record the theme for the 2006 World Cup).
Brighton's not-exactly-huge African population is respectably represented, but outnumbered. It isn't, however, good intentions that are at play here. It's the simple desire to dance. And that, of course, is a universal language. Which is handy, because the duo themselves are completely Francophone. Amadou Bagayoko, in splendid purple robes and dark glasses, calls "Est-ce que ça va?" at regular intervals, while his wife Mariam Doumbia, in matching robes and a headdress that would make Aretha Franklin think twice, solicits a "Ca va bien!" response.
"Dansons ensemble!" is an imperative everyone understands. Amadou & Mariam are considered practitioners of "Malian blues", but if that's so, then Malian blues is no more a form of blues than Bombay duck is a form of waterfowl. Their shuffling syncopations echo the rhythms of reggae, invariably four beats to the bar, and can be mapped on to the Western listener's inner click-track with ease ("Western" being an unsatisfactory euphemism given that Mali's capital, Bamako, is eight degrees west of London).
Let's not overstate how rootsy and organic and Fair Trade this is. Sure, there are cowbells, and Amadou's quicksilver fingertips make familiar Afro-pop figures, but there's also plenty of synthesiser (one track almost sounds like Royksopp). And you can call that the blues, the violets or the neon pinks. The point is that when it asks you to dance, it absolutely compels you to obey. Vous comprenez?Reuse content