The Cure, Royal Albert Hall, London

Self-loathing superstar still strikes chord with fans
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This turns out to be a sprawling double-album of a gig, three hours and 36 songs which range promiscuously through every cranny of the Cure's career.

Nearly two years after they last played the UK, it's a generous gift to the Teenage Cancer Trust, which it is a one-off fund-raiser for, and to the fans packed into this stately hall.

Some have bird's nest hair, many wear black. They all build an atmosphere of raucous expectation before a note has been played, and roar along to Robert Smith's every word. Smith (who, with bassist Simon Gallup, is the band's one remaining long-term member) is still a fascinating figure. His eyes are still ringed with black mascara, and at first look as if they've rolled up into his head, only the whites showing, an unnervingly demonic sight. More often, though, he flicks coquettish, sidelong glances at his fans, who gaze back with furious longing.

The music the Cure play for the first hour or two shows why, of all Britain's gloomy post-punk groups, they were the ones who repeated this fervour most deeply in America. The sound is dark, heavy and dense. Even one of their jangly pop moments, "The Kiss", sees a circling swirl of guitars surround the bitter sentiment at its centre. "Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me," Smith is singing; but also, "I wish you were dead".

The squirming discomfort with himself and the world which defines his lyrics, and the sonic claustrophobia with which the Cure enact them, were always going to strike a chord with the sort of alienated young Americans who later fell for Slipknot, just as much as with small-town British Goths. Nu-metal producer Ross Robinson's work on 2004's the Cure made this strange marriage explicit, and saw a 25-year-old British band make that bad genre's finest work.

There is certainly variety in this pummelling early assault, from the Mexican cantina strum and Catholic turmoil of "The Blood" to "Shake Dog Shake"'s swinging rock. Relative obscurities such as "Play for Today" are responsible for as much wild dancing and singing in the stalls as the more universally known "In between Days" (which Smith grins his way through, while singing its own lyrics of secreted darkness - "Yesterday I felt so cold, I felt like I could die"...). But to the uncommitted observer, it all begins to feel relentless, with little of the melodic beauty with which the Cure have smuggled 30 million albums into people's homes.

The three encores, virtually a show in themselves, take care of all that. "Anyway, some pop," Smith decides on his return. "We just remembered it's Saturday night back there..." So we get the oriental arpeggios and lyrical slyness of "Lullaby", about a black widow's clammily murderous love, which sees Smith clutch himself as he sings, "Don't struggle..." Soon after, he introduces "a totally unorthodox song for us": "Friday, I'm In Love". The sort of effortless, jangling single Smith always has up his sleeve, in tonight's context it feels like a sunburst. It's the second encore which finally makes this a special Cure gig, though, as they play half of their 1979 debut, Three Imaginary Boys. The scared, lonely reverie of the title song feels like a yellowing, potent portrait of Smith at 20, as does the passion of "Fire in Cairo".

Their first, notorious single, "Killing An Arab" is taken as a redemptive punk thrash (with the lyric now changed to the death of a "stranger"). The gently hopeful "Boys Don't Cry" breaks the mood, before "A Garden" returns to the Cure's roots.

Post-punk guitars grind and pulse, while Smith, lit white, looks deathly. These are the mysterious moments which explain why this band, and their fans, remain, indestructible and almost immortal.