Features | Festivals

The Curiosa Festival

By David M. Goldstein | 12 August 2004

I didn’t stay for the encore of The Cure’s nearly two hour set. Not because their main set wasn’t fantastic, but rather because I’d already subjected myself to 90 degree heat for the over five hours, not to mention wanting to beat the rush. Negotiating the throngs of people during the 12 minute primal scream of set closer “The Promise,” I had a bit of a revelation; “Dang! The Cure sure have a lot of fans.” I can’t remember the last time I had seen a general admission crowd that deep, most of who looked like they got lost on their way to a John Mayer gig. This probably has something to do with the fact that The Cure have been around for over two decades, Staring At The Sea has long since become a freshman dorm staple, and the show was on a Saturday. But I still couldn’t help but be awed that this many people had been willing to pay 65 bucks to stand in a dirt field and listen to an androgynous man in white face makeup wail about broken promises. Fortunately for the gawkers, The Cure put on a hell of a show, and the shorter performances from the opening acts widely believed to be Cure disciples weren’t too shabby either.

For those unfamiliar with New York City, Randall’s Island is essentially a sparsely vegetated mass of dirt in the middle of the East River. New York lacks a proper “summer shed” akin to nearby the Jones Beach Ampitheatre, so Randall’s Island is usually the de facto New York stop for summer festivals (interestingly, it’s also home to one of the largest psych wards on the East Coast). The downside to this location is the near complete lack of shade, makeshift bathroom facilities, and it’s a pain in the ass to get to. However, it’s refreshingly devoid of the corporate shamelessness of a typical summer shed, and the food concessions are relatively cheap and entirely supplied by carnies, which is completely awesome if only because I was able watch The Rapture while eating a sausage and graduate to a corn dog by the time Interpol came on.

Every Curiosa stop in the U.S. is home to two stages, and while I can’t speak for any other venues, the setup at Randall’s Island rendered it very difficult to shuffle between stages without missing any music. The second stage was the size of a thimble, and about as far away from the main stage as it could possibly be without it being wet. But because this stage featured performances from such questionable acts as Cooper Temple Clause, Thursday and Melissa Auf De Maur’s band, my party considered the setup to be a considerable blessing (wouldn’t have minded seeing Muse though).

Mogwai was given the unenviable task of playing at 5:00 pm in what seemed like 100 degree heat. All I ever hear about the Mogwai live show is how incredibly loud it’s supposed to be, and the band did not disappoint in this department, being clearly audible from the entrance of the venue a quarter of a mile away. In the words of Mike Patton at one of his solo gigs, “I’m wearing earplugs, and you should be too!” A Mogwai set essentially consists of five unassuming blokes in street clothes playing quiet, delicate instrumentals and immediately chasing them with bristling noise. And the quieter the melodies would get, the louder the follow-up riffs would be. While I’d be lying if I said I was overly familiar with any one of Mogwai’s albums, I’m told that the individual songs were replicated to a tee, and I enjoyed their half-hour set enough to consider seeing them in a headline gig the next time they come around.

I am, however, familiar enough with The Rapture’s Echoes to say that they played seven of its eleven songs in the course of a nine song, 35 minute set. The first time I saw The Rapture was in June of 2003, and it’s unbelievable how much tighter they’ve become as a unit since then. They could benefit from writing some new songs, but that said, I’ve never seen them play the Echoes songs the same way twice. The breakdown portion signaling the conclusion of “Echoes” was far jazzier than I’ve heard in the past, and “Heaven” contained newfound saxophone bleating. The Rapture have been joined onstage in the U.K. by ex-Happy Mondays dancer Bez, and the one new song they played had an obvious Mondays influence, containing a keyboard line ripped right out of the Mondays’ tune “Do It Better” (baby faced bassist Matt Safer provided lead vocals). It should also be noted that The Rapture completely deviates from all indie protocol by appearing to have a blast onstage. A thirty-five minute set was far too short; worship at their feet the next time they come to your town.

Everything about the way Interpol handles themselves onstage suggest that they’re fucking rock stars. It’s in the way that Carlos D. non-chalantly strums his bass with an ‘I’m so cool, this bass could probably play itself’ grin plastered to his face. It’s in the way that drummer Sam Fogarino and guitarist Paul Banks have memorized their songs to the point that they know exactly when they’ll have 25 seconds in which to light a cigarette. The crowd to see Interpol was easily among the afternoon’s largest, with several of the audience members obviously thinking that the band was speaking directly to them! They surprised all in attendance by opening with “Obstacle 1” (even if they still played “Roland” second) and the crowd was treated to three songs off of the upcoming Antics; “Evil,” “NARC,” and “Slow Hands,” the latter of which contained a dynamite disco beat at the chorus. I was pleasantly surprised to hear underrated Bright Lights track “Leif Erikson” midway through the set, and things only became sketchy during “Say Hello To the Angels," when Carlos D.’s bass completely cut out a quarter of the way through the song.

The Cure’s stage set befitted their massive sound, containing numerous fog machines, flashing strobes, and a gigantic projection screen behind the band featuring such gruesome images as marauding army ants during the anti-terror screed “Us and Them.” They hit the stage at around 8:45 and immediately fired up “Lost”, the opening dirge off of their recent, excellent, self-titled disc. And just like on that record, “Lost” segued into “Labyrinth,” which was followed by the instantly recognizable bass riff of “Fascination Street,” accompanied by amusing images of (fascination) street people partying in a less than wholesome atmosphere.

A recent trip to The Cure setlist archive proved that they’ve been impressively mixing up the sets to varying degrees on the current tour, even going as far to play Disintegration-era songs that have never surfaced on any of their many hits compilations. But the Randall’s Island set was essentially an even split between the new record and greatest hits, which considering how The Cure was obviously meant to be played live, I thought was the right idea. In fact, the only songs that weren’t off The Cure or any one of the singles compilations were Pornography lead track “One Hundred Years”, and the frequently played “From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea”, an angst-ridden, driving number off of Wish that was arguably the highlight of the evening.

Robert Smith never uttered a single word to the audience throughout the set, but it was refreshing to see a band so willing, eager even, to roll out the hits. Talk about feeding the fish; one segment of the set ran “Love Song,” “In Between Days,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Pictures of You!” Never let it be said that Fat Bob doesn’t know what side his bread is buttered on. Unfortunately, such hit-driven excitement proved to be a little too much for some of the less mature in attendance. At least where I was standing, drunken folk used “Just Like Heaven” as an opportunity to start up an honest to goodness mosh pit (I shit you not), and the general rudeness and overloud singing along continued for the majority of the evening. One would think that it’s far less expensive to get fucked up and talk to your friends at home than to pay 65 dollars to do the exact same thing at a Cure concert, but I guess one would be wrong. Did I mention how incredible the new songs sound live? I’ve finally found it in my heart to forgive Ross Robinson for Korn.

Their new record is easily their finest since Disintegration, they’re headlining a tour loaded with their disciples, and they can still bring it live. His royal Fat Bobness will not be denied. Humidity and asshole fans aside, Curiosa was highly enjoyable, and further proof that the fogies (e.g; Morrisey, Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma) have 2004 in a stranglehold.