One man's heroic journey to watch an entire Cure set.
The only thing I identify with less than The Cure’s music is people who identify with The Cure’s music.
There’s always been something inherently lame about being a Cure fan and the culture that comes with it—the melodramatic sorrow, the introspective misery, the special pain. But clearly, there’s something to it since everyone has that one friend who is really into The Cure. Maybe the problem is on me—there’s something I’m overlooking or not understanding. So this weekend at Riot Fest in Chicago, I decided to throw myself into the fire that is The Cure. I was going to force myself to watch The Cure’s entire set. All two hours and 15 minutes of it, from 7:45 to 10 PM.
Up against The Cure during this headlining timeslot at other stages were Primus, which was easy to pass up since it’s not 1996 and I’m not Trey Parker or Matt Stone, and Bring Me The Horizon, which was also easy to pass up since I am not an idiot tween. The only difficult pill to swallow was that right smack in the middle of The Cure’s set was Weezer at 8:40 PM. Normally, I wouldn’t care about seeing them play their Raditude material, or whatever they’ve been up to over the last 15 years, but on this particular evening, Weezer was scheduled to play The Blue Album in full. That’s a tough one to skip. Say what you will about the path Weezer has taken over the last few years, but seeing their classic debut performed live is a tough option to pass up. But I told myself I would. I had to. I was intent on understanding The Cure.
Just before 7:45, I walk over to The Cure’s stage and squeeze into a section on the side that had previously been a prime viewing spot for the weekend, but was now completely overcrowded to a borderline dangerous degree. Over the course of the weekend, I’d seen dozens of bands play at Riot Fest—Wu-Tang Clan, Die Antwoord, the Flaming Lips—but The Cure is, by far, the most crowded I’ve seen a stage. Their audience size, and their set time, dwarfed all other performers (typical headliners played for about 60 to 75 minutes).
I’m able to jam myself between a row of stoked Cure fans and a fence. Please God, don’t let me die watching The Cure, I say to myself. I start to think about the possibility of meeting my demise right there in Humboldt Park. I can only hope that my family will lie at my funeral, telling my friends and loved ones that I died doing something decidedly more badass than watching The Cure, like choking on a rice cake in my underwear, for example.
It’s a quarter to eight and The Cure is about to start. Here I go. The next 135 consecutive minutes of my life will be devoted exclusively to The Cure. May God have mercy on my soul.
Let the good times roll.
After waiting for about three minutes for The Cure to start, I realize something: they’ve already started. The band has been playing for three whole minutes and I couldn’t tell because they just sort of noodled their way into their first song—somewhere in the midst of a giant cloud of smoke and bright lights, the atmospheric sounds they were making were music. I genuinely thought they were soundchecking.
The Cure then begins their second song and the band has made a HUGE mistake. They’ve started the first song over again by accident. That’s what I think anyway, since it sounds exactly like the first one. But apparently, according to the applause of the massive crowd, I am mistaken. It is a new, completely different song.
Speaking of the crowd, they are reacting with the excitement of people who’ve been sitting in the middle of a gas leak all day, just sort of slumped there like they've just been dumped. But despite their misleading morose and bored demeanor, these people, I learn, LOVE The Cure. The guy in front of me sounds like he's watching Jesus perform a miracle. “Wow. How do you get a voice like that? How does that happen?” he asks about Robert Smith to no one in particular. Yeah, I think, how does someone manage to sound like they’re on the verge of crying into a pillow all the time?
All of Smith’s lyrics sound the same to me. He sounds like a child who ran into his parents’ bedroom to tell on his brother for pushing him. Through some miracle, I am able to make out the lyric “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and realize what amazing alternatives both sleep and death sound like.
I start thinking about movies I like that are shorter than two hours and 15 minutes and start playing one in my head. Today's selection is A League of Their Own. Ha, "there's no crying in baseball." Classic Hanks.
Just look at that view!
Three songs in and I’m finally able to get a glimpse of Robert Smith although it may be Liza Minnelli. I google “is liz minnelli still alive?” She is. So it’s a possibility but probably not likely. Smith looks like he stumbled out of a closet and on to the stage. I’m beginning to understand why the band did not allow photographers during their set and why they’re cranking the backing lights and fog machines up to full blast. Between that, the million people, and the giant scaffolding obstructing my view, I’m just getting occasional random flashes of the stage. The Cure’s performance has all the joys of watching the scrambled Playboy channel but without the possibility of seeing something good.
The Cure did not allow photographers so here is a drawing I did from memory in my hotel room.
8:12. Almost a half-hour in and I finally recognize a song. It’s “In Between Days.” Only knowing three other Cure songs—“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Close to Me,” and “Friday I’m In Love”—at this rate, I should hear them all some time before 2015’s Riot Fest.
After another 10 minutes of checking my phone for the time, I see this notification from the Riot Fest app:
While the siren call of The Blue Album is tempting, it’s also inconvenient. To get to Weezer's stage, I’d have to hike it over there through thousands of Weezer and Cure fans just to find a halfway decent spot to watch. Just look at this map:
At this point in the story, I would like to tell you that I ignore the notification, stand there and watch The Cure for another hour-plus, and it stirs some groundbreaking epiphany inside me where I walk away with a newfound appreciation of The Cure. I start leading a new life where I dress all in black and do my hair like a Tim Burton character. I wish I could tell you that, but I can’t. I bail. Opting to see Weezer instead of The Cure fills me with the same sense of self-disappointment as when I go to a new restaurant and instead of trying something exotic, I just order a burger to avoid potential disappointment.
I start trudging through the horde of sad bastards to post up somewhere for Weezer. To give you an idea of how difficult this is, please look at this shot of the crowd, as taken by my friend Mark and his drone camera.
Photo by Mark Beemer of Shirts for a Cure
I get a good spot right behind a tree approximately 300 miles from the stage and Weezer is about to start. Man oh man. I am excited about music again. Fuck The Cure and their jangly music for dorks, I think, I made the right choice.
The crowd goes nuts as Weezer comes on stage. Here it comes, that guitar intro to “My Name Is Jonas” …bew niw niw niw bew niw niw niw bew niw niw neeeeeew… here it comes, boys, bring it on…
No. Instead, they play “Back to the Shack,” a song off their forthcoming album. Here everyone thought they were getting The Blue Album but instead got blue balls.
But OK, they’ve got a new album to promote. I get it. Now the song is over. Certainly here comes the “My Name Is Jonas” intro… bew niw niw niw bew niw niw niw bew niw niw neeeeeew. Here we go!
No. Instead, they play a song I don’t recognize. Here everyone thought they were getting The Blue Album, not the album that blew.
Third time’s a charm. Here comes the damn “My Name Is Whoever the Fuck” intro. COME. ON.
No. Another song I’ve never heard. At this point, my vision of the band is obscured, not only by a tree and the sheer distance from the stage, but also by the sight of people leaving en masse.
Look how happy they look!
Weezer then plays “Hash Pipe” followed by “Island in the Sun” at which point I hear the guy next to me ask his friend, “Why are they playing Sugar Ray songs?” I don’t know, dude. I don’t know why they’re playing Sugar Ray songs.
At 9:10, 30 minutes in to Weezer’s set, Rivers Cuomo finally addresses the blue elephant in the room: “Before we go back to ’94, we’d be remiss if we didn’t make a brief stop in ’96” before launching into “El Scorcho.” Still not The Blue Album, but I’ll take any excuse to not hear a song off that album with the guy from Lost on the cover.
Here is my friend Brendan consoling me about the fact that I may never hear "My Name Is Jonas."
After “El Scorcho,” they take a break and leave the stage. I’m assuming. I can’t even see the stage, let alone what’s happening on it but there’s an incredibly awkward and long silence going on. All I know is, it’s 9:15 and they have 40 minutes left to play a 41-minute album.
Eventually, Weezer comes back out and finally, FINALLY, kick off the intro to “My Name Is Jonas” and it’s everything I hoped it’d be—a sonically inferior version of a song I like, as listened to while strangers are brushing past me non-stop!
This is what Weezer looks like, apparently. Couldn't tell ya.
Somewhere around “The Sweater Song,” my social anxiety takes over and I realize that this is not the most enjoyable way to experience an album I hold dear to my heart. It’s not Weezer’s fault. I’m sure if there weren't 50 acres of people between me and them, I'd be stoked. I bail on Weezer and walk away dejected.
I pass by The Cure’s stage and they are still performing. Whatever decades-old melancholy song they’re playing perfectly soundtracks the bummer mood I’m in as I leave the festival and head back to my hotel. I put all of my hopes into Weezer and I was let down. I had my heart broken. I had something I loved taken away from me and replaced with disappointment and OH MY GOD. Hold on. Wait a minute. I think… I think I finally understand The Cure.
Dan Ozzi got so bored he shivered like a child. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi