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The Cure

["Cure"] Vague rumors of the impending demise of the Cure have been surfacing regularly since the late '80s. They usually originate with Robert Smith, the clownishly lipsticked and mascara'd depressed guy who's been the group's frontman and only steady member since their post-punk beginning. In other words, to most intents and purposes Smith is the Cure, and there's really no reason he couldn't just pull the plug. But there's one good reason he hasn't: the Cure have slowly built up one hell of a worldwide cult audience, multiplatinum album sales, and a great deal of momentum over the past 17 years, and it would take a major force of will to toss all that into the dustbin of history.

That momentum, and a fleet of very large busses, carried the Cure into the Worcester Centrum on July 2. There were no opening acts, just the Cure, who went on promptly at 8 p.m., parked themselves under a huge laser- and light-show apparatus, and blanketed the crowd with the comfortably numb, echo-laden textures of "Want," the lead track on the group's new Wild Mood Swings (Elektra).

That "Want" sounds a lot like any number of songs on the much better 1989 Cure album Disintegration (Elektra) created the odd impression that Smith and his band were on just another leg of a tour that started long ago, that this show and Wild Mood Swings were both the logical outcome of confluent artistic and commercial forces that were set in motion in the late '80s. Remember, Smith is the guy who delayed kicking keyboardist Laurence Tolhurst out of the band until long after it had been determined that old Lol, as he was known, wasn't serving any useful purpose. So Smith has a history of letting dramas run their inevitable course.

Unfortunately, there isn't much genuine drama left in the Cure these days. Smith's still a charismatic freak, something that comes across quite well in videos and then gets swallowed up in a large arena like the Centrum. And he's always been a talented tunesmith, generating about a disc's worth of unabashedly catchy singles (à la Standing on the Beach: The Singles) every eight to 10 years. But at his best Smith is a master of moods, like the dark confusion of Disintegration and the playful melancholy of The Head on the Door.

True to its title, the new Cure disc doesn't achieve any steady emotional tone (which may have something to do with the fact that nine separate teams of specialists, from industrialist Alan Mouldar to pop experts Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade, were employed to mix the 14 tracks). And neither did the Centrum show. Smith and his five-piece band started off strong by following up the heavy atmospheres of "Want" with familiar older songs like the stormy "A Night like This" and the creepy "Spiderman." (The loss of guitarist Porl Thompson, who'd been on board since Disintegration but went off last year to join the nostalgia circus run by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, has hurt the chemistry of the band on stage more than their overall sound.)

The rest of the set was peppered by decent versions of most of the expected hits, including "The Walk," "Just like Heaven," "In Between Days," "Let's Go to Bed," "Fascination Street," and, as encores, "Boys Don't Cry," "Friday I'm in Love," and "Close to Me." And that is, after all, what the kids came to see. But there was nothing magical, exhilarating, or even particularly exciting to behold -- no dynamic pacing, a low-energy stage presence, no real musical surprises.

A meaner-spirited reviewer might urge Smith to make good on his promise to call it quits, particularly because ticket sales were a little slow for the Cure this time around. But that would deny thousands of devotees the chance to see him play "Boys Don't Cry" again the next time the Cure's gradually diminishing momentum brings them to town.

-- Matt Ashare

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