It's 1979. Joy Division just debuted with the stunningly desolate album, Unknown Pleasures. The Clash are making apocalyptic waves with London Calling. And, under the cover of darkness, 20-year-old Robert Smith from Crawley is being smuggled into a studio (used by day by The Jam) by Fiction Records chief, Chris Parry, to record The Cure's first full-length. It's done in just three nights and the resultant rough, black diamond is named Three Imaginary Boys.
Fast forward to 2011, and Smith (the only original member of The Cure, the band he embodies) is welcomed to the sprawling stage by joyful cheers. They are somewhat incongruous with the angst and despair-filled offerings he is about to make.
For this leg of The Cure's Reflections tour, Smith is, as always, bedecked in his uniform of red lipstick, kohl eye-liner, electrified hair and black. He launches into a marathontwo-and-a-half hour set which will revisit that first album from 1979, 1980's Seventeen Seconds and 1981's Faith, all in full, as well as a host of B-sides and a short rally of the band's saccharine hits to take the bitter taste away before the crowd departs.
It begins with an onslaught of the wonderfully torturous "10.15 Saturday Night", "Accuracy" and "Grinding Halt", which is reincarnated in this lofty setting with urgent, angst-filled riffs and relentless yet defeatist drums. From the offset, the music achieves a freshness that transcends decades to resonate with every generation in the Hall (and there are several).
The band (at first a trio, then a quartet and finally a quintet, reflecting the numerous line-up changes in The Cure's evolution) plough through what amounts to a small portion of The Cure's vast back catalogue. And as they do, Smith's dive from a platform of angst into deeper psychological darkness is evident in songs such as the alienating, spectral "A Forest". The set is not only a reflection but a premonition – of the influence that this sound will continue to have, and as a kind of justification for the lighter songs that proved so popular later in Smith's career. From the very beginning, The Cure was a formula that worked.
"Remember me the way I used to be/the way I used to be," Smith sings on "Secrets", with the same lilting melancholy (though with added poignancy) that he always has. But he need not worry. The set is beautifully, brutally timeless.