Sadly The Cure don't play as many UK gigs as they really should - something like five gigs in the 21st Century in the UK (Wembley Bloodflowers, Hyde Park a year or so later, a small club gig for charity, a one off around their 2004 eponymous LP, and their epic Albert Hall gig last year) - so `Festival' gives the non-continent voyaging Cure fan chance to catch their great live performances of 2005. I really wish they'd play more often in the UK and maybe play smaller, cuter venues!!!
The old Cure is the same as the new Cure, obligatory line-up changes occurring - guitarist Perry Bamonte and keyboard player Roger O'Donnell have left the band, while long time associate Porl Thompson (originally in an early Cure line-up and later in the band from 1984's `The Top' to 1992/93's live `Show/Paris' recordings) has rejoined following some years playing with folk like Page & Plant (though Thompson did guest with the Cure a few times after, playing on `End' at their XFM gig and at a club gig a few years ago on Cure oldie `I Dig You'). Thompson was the Cure's greatest guitarist, so his return is very welcome - Robert Smith (vocals/guitar) has come up with the idea that The Cure shouldn't have a keyboard player (despite having one since 1980!) letting Thompson replace that with wild guitar lines against his own guitar and the backing rhythm section of Jason Cooper (drums) and the timeless (& apparently ageless) Simon Gallup (bass). A bold idea, Smith clearly not resting on his laurels. I heard bad things about a track or two at the Albert Hall gig - `Lullaby' was meant to have been awful, but on the evidence here, the four-piece Cure is a sound idea, shame a live album wasn't forthcoming as well!
Like the recent Depeche Mode DVD `Touring the Angel', `Festival' suffers from the digi-cam approach, which looks a bit dull and not as brilliantly shot as `The Cure in Orange' or `Show.' Smith looks the same as ever, so some gigs aren't that visual...whatever. The songs and the performances speak for themselves and any seasoned Cure fan should love the trawl through material from 1980's `Seventeen Seconds' to their last album (though nothing from debut `Three Imaginary Boys', 1995's `Wild Mood Swings' or 2000's `Bloodflowers' - though b side `Signal to Noise' stems from the period of the latter. A shame since I'd love to hear Thompson play on versions of songs like `1015 Sat Night', `Want', `Trap', & `39'). The encore section is particularly lovely, four tracks from `Seventeen Seconds' - a bruised `At Night', a muscular `M', a sing-along `Play for Today' (the crowd finally replacing the synth!), and a decent stab at `A Forest' which has a great opening by Smith and Thompson. The second encore element finds a `Disintegration' double whammy in the form of `Plainsong' and the title track, very very great and all topped off with the bleak adieu of `Faith', which sounds much better without the keyboard.
Wish's `Open' and `End' begin and close the main `set' on `Festival', between it's all good stuff - the effective duo of `Just Like Heaven' and `In Between Days' nestling against each other, and a violent end section featuring `The Baby Screams', `100 Years' and `Shiver and Shake.' 1985's `The Head on the Door' is visited a few times more with a stunning take on latingothrocker `The Blood', the evergreen `A Night Like This' (again, much better minus the predictable keyboard), and a great take of `Push.' Thompson's talents remind us that `If Only Tonight We Could Sleep' probably came from him (if they were going to do `Lullaby' it should have been done this way!), and his presence on `Never Enough', `From the Edge of a Deep Green Sea', and `The Drowning Man' remind us he's the great Cure guitarist. Comparing his playing on the material from `Pornography' (`Figurehead', `100', `A Strange Day') and the `Disintegration'-material to those of Bamonte on the `Trilogy' DVD shows just how right Smith was getting him back in the band. & great to see the violent `The Kiss' still followed by `Shake Dog Shake' in the style of the Hyde Park gig.
`Festival' is probably one for the fans, not that exciting visually, but great performances of great songs - the less obsessive Cure fan (like Stephen Merchant) will gripe that songs like `The Lovecats', `Close to Me', `The Walk', `Why Can't I Be You', `Friday I'm in Love' and `Boys Don't Cry' aren't here. Oh well, it's a brilliant career and a reminder like the reissued back catalogue that the Cure still have it. Roll on the new album...and British tour?