It is worth noting, in assessing the success of the Curiosa tour, that the SBC Park vendor who sold me a churro displayed far more enthusiasm and personal vivacity than anyone onstage.
Churros! the gentleman fairly bellowed. C'mon, churros, yeah! You can dip 'em in yer beer! Churros! Yeah!
Sold. And soon thereafter, exhausted from the effort, Mr. Churros plopped down in my row, lit a cigarette, and tapped his feet excitedly to Interpol.
A churro vendor. Sitting in a Major League Baseball stadium, along with five thousand or so other folks. As a full moon rises above right field's Splash Landing. Rockin' out to a truly incredible band on Matador Records. However bizarre Curiosa's physical setup, however plodding and uneven the Cure's climactic set, however burned you might feel that Robert Smith didn't see fit to play "Just Like Heaven" or "Friday I'm in Love," savor the sweetness of this image. Even if you weren't there, savor the fact that you live in a world where you could be.
Yes, the Cure's eight-band cavalcade of melodrama botched a great many details, but the perverse thrill of bands of this formerly outcast stripe going Baseball Stadium overrode it all. We arrived -- primarily black-clad, but not uniformly so, which is frankly kind of disappointing -- at five o'clock Saturday evening to regard a majestic stage, perched on second base exactly, from which Curiosa's heavy-hitters (Mogwai, the Rapture, Interpol, the Cure) would hold forth.
And then, a smaller stage, in shallow left field, for the second-stringers. Tough break, that one, if perhaps your seat straddled the first-base line, placing you at a great distance peering in from a shitty angle. There's Scarling's guitar player, visually complementing the band's gloom-pop by draping his hair over his eyes and rocking back and forth woozily as if auditioning for the remake of Radiohead's "Creep" video. There's Head Automatica, ostensibly a Dan the Automator hybrid experiment turned here into a boppy Lookout! garage rock hoedown. There's Cooper Temple Clause sounding vaguely Ozzfestian and specifically boring. And there's Cursive, compelling one of my associates to inquire, "Do you think there's such a thing as Aggressive Cello Players Magazine?"
Alas, Curiosa's rotating pie-rack of second-stagers robbed SF of the truly intriguing ones -- Muse's apocalyptic art rock, Thursday's Cure-for-teenyboppers angst, alt-rock quasiceleb Melissa Auf Der Maur's cheese value. But we first basemen woulda gotten the shaft even if they'd played, so nuts to that. Nothin' to do but mill around the Giants stadium's vendor bloc soaking up random conversations ("Oooh, you're blonde now!") and waiting for the Big Boys to man second base.
"Aw, Mogwai's playing first?" another friend of mine whined. "The Rapture should play first, and then they should go die." But alas, Scotland's finest drew the 5:30 short straw, spinning those dark, spiraling, hypnotic, wordless, hilariously loud Death Threat Symphonies to God in broad daylight. It's a testament to Mogwai's power and ardor that even in such noncomplimentary open-air circumstances, these dudes can still play loud enough to raise Bobby Bonds from the dead. The ol' soft-melodic-bassline-leads-to-huge-guitar-blowup formula might be frayed and dog-eared, but that first crash still blew the crowd back like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. Glorious. Unfortunately, the scant half-hour set time meant that Mogwai wasted nearly a third of it performing the also-patented set-ending feedback freak-out -- try selling a churro during that.
The Rapture did not go die. The cowbell player, however, should at least consider it. Cowbell players in general have rapidly become, in rock band parlance, the DJ of the oughts -- visually intriguing, sonically unnecessary, eventually grating, thoroughly dorky. The wobbly-hipped Rapture gentleman is all but crying out for a water balloon. That said, "House of Jealous Lovers" remains the jam, but even that paled in comparison to Interpol's set, the first to really seize and hold the SBC crowd with gorgeously layered guitar effects impressionism. A coupla years on, the best tunes on Turn on the Bright Lights still appear to be blooming, slowly transforming from great art rock to devastatingly great arena rock.
It's a metamorphosis the Cure couldn't quite make. Smith and his lipstick-smacking backing band set a slow, woozy, ethereal tone from the onset of the band's two-hour set, but it unfortunately peaked with song #4: "Fascination Street," an absolute masterpiece of a bassline rife with all the nervous rage and glammy catharsis the Cure is deified for. Had the night ended there, Bobby could've run for governor. But the group's penchant for writing, oh, two halfway-memorable tunes per album bites it in the ass over a set of this length and breadth -- melodic crumbs like "Pictures of You" and "Love Song" were sprinkled throughout a dense, overwrought forest of ten-minute tuneless dirges. Even when the encore spat out all the Cure's hookier, hokier pop tunes en masse -- "Close to Me," "Let's Go to Bed," "Lovecats," "Why Can't I Be You?" -- it felt more like a fuel dump than a gasoline fire. The Cure's always suffered from a poor signal-to-noise ratio, as powerful as the signals are.
Still, "Fascination Street," coupled with the band's shocking longevity and obvious influence, still guaranteed that the Cure wasn't embarrassed at its own festival -- it's hard to think of another '80s-sired band that can still tour competently, and assemble a full undercard of obviously indebted younger bands besides. Even if a few of those youngsters -- Interpol particularly -- seem poised to surpass and transcend that blueprint entirely. If the Cure's weepy, breast-clutching melodrama comes to define Modern Arena Rock, well then, fabulous. If it's good enough for the churro vendors of the world, it should be good enough for you.
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