Live Review: The Cure, The Twilight Sad, Philadelphia, PA, June 24, 2023

Robert Smith is living his best life—and what a joy it is to just be along for the ride! Over the course of the Cure’s 29-song set at the Wells Fargo Center, Smith danced, laughed, grinned and played to the sold-out crowd with a welcome mirth.

And through it all, he and the band sounded as deliciously desolate as I’d always dreamed they would, embracing 20,000 fans who had long waited for this, from those who’d attended the Cure’s last Philly show 15 long years ago in 2008 to those who, like me, had spent many lonely nights in the ‘90s listening to Disintegration and Wish but never managed to find our way into cooler-than-cool goth cliques or even the cold comfort of arenas packed with likeminded strangers.

From my sky-high seat, I could just barely tell that Smith has eyes (forget about his signature smeared lipstick), but his singular voice rang out true and gorgeously evocative even on unfamiliar songs like “A Fragile Thing” and “I Can Never Say Goodbye,” two of the five new songs threaded through the first set and launching the second.

1989’s Disintegration was well represented with five numbers (including first-set treats “Pictures Of You” and “Lovesong”), second only to 1985’s The Head On The Door, which yielded six (including the fantastic “Close To You” and “Six Different Ways”). 

1992’s Wish, on the other hand, accounted for just two songs, but what songs they were: the giddy “Friday I’m In Love,” which brought out Smith’s playful side, and the enveloping “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea,” which surfaced those old, conflicted emotions in the safety that comes only when you’re sitting silently in the darkness surrounded by strangers. (Although it might have been asking too much to want those strangers to be similarly silent, rather than offering a running commentary.)

Other familiar pleasures were scattered across this Saturday-night show, with “A Forest” and “Charlotte Sometimes” topping my list, and unearthed gems like “It Can Never Be The Same” and “Burn” added to the mystique. And just as the 10-song third set seemed to promise a ceaseless supply of beautiful and immortal songs, “Just Like Heaven” and “Boys Don’t Cry” heralded the evening’s inevitable end, followed by Smith’s final lap around the stage to acknowledge the audience’s deep and abiding appreciation and adoration.

Beyond the principled approach he’s taken to taking on the ticketing titans and his canny merch strategy ensuring that fans would eagerly join a massive queue to drop just as much money on posters, tees and trading cards as on precious seats in an arena too small to meet the demand for the Cure’s presence, Smith delivered all we wanted and left us hungry for more. (For one thing, “10:15 Saturday Night,” played most recently at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, would have been an appropriate if on-the-nose inclusion about 90 minutes into the show.)

Funny thing about the Twilight Sad: My husband Chris asked me to accompany him to see them play at the North Star Bar (R.I.P.) in October 2009 for what would have been our first date, but I already had other plans. Almost 14 years and several hundred shows later, I saw them for the first time as the opening band on Wells Fargo Center’s massive stage, with only singer James Alexander Graham and guitarist Andy MacFarlane remaining from the 2009 lineup.

Graham shouted out the much smaller Johnny Brenda’s and Boot & Saddle (R.I.P.) as the venues he’s used to playing when the Twilight Sad passes through Philly, but the band sounded quite good on the glow-up, especially “That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy” and “Keep Yourself Warm,” the latter borrowed from new dummer Grant Hutchison’s previous band, Frightened Rabbit (R.I.P.).

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

The Twilight Sad