The Cure / Earl's Court, London

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There is a moment in the 1986 concert film The Cure In Orange where frontman Robert Smith trots on stage beneath his trademark backcombed hairdo, which looks like a violent scribble of biro, and reaches up to rip it away, revealing a fuzzy crop. In the world of the Cure, where nothing changes from decade to decade beyond the shade of eyeshadow and the odd keyboard player, getting a new haircut can pass for inventive behaviour. The music, once angular, difficult stuff, now pacifies - a Cure for your ills.

The latest album, Wild Mood Swings, opens with "Want", an ungainly slab of anonymous stadium rock which sounds like something Bryan Adams's band might plod through while their leader pops off to change his shirt. And at Earl's Court last Friday, it set the tone for a long, arduous show, full of bright lights and dim playing. If Bryan Adams's band had walked on and plugged themselves in, they would have sounded like Ash by comparison.

But there were some Cure songs that even the Cure couldn't ruin. Like the galloping "Inbetween Days", and the wistful "Just Like Heaven", and their finest achievement, "Lullaby", an exotic masterpiece of menace that Smith must have sold his soul to have written. Or his personality. "I always mean to think of things, to say," he whined in a fey voice intended to make us forget that we had just heard him viciously berating his lighting crew, "but when I get up here, I go completely blank." No kidding.

You might blame the lacklustre gig on illness - Smith had recently recovered from an ear infection. But a dearth of imagination and spontaneity afflicted everything, not just the musicians. There was the set - two sections of a rollercoaster track which arched over the band like scorpion tails. And there were slide projections, too, of fish and lattice patterns and other doodles from the margins of a nine-year-old's school book.

There were also the flashing lights, which so impressed the man in front of me that he whipped out his camera every time they started up. He'll have got his snaps back by now, hazy and bleached out, with no discernible focus, just a mess for him to look back on and wonder "Why did I bother?" - a pretty accurate record of the evening, as it happens.