TAMPA — The Cure’s first Tampa concert since 2008 brought fans to a raw reckoning with some of life’s most intense emotions, from the depths of fresh grief and existential dread to the fizzy highs of young love.
Perhaps the most gutting — and sonically stunning — of the whole set Thursday night: a slate of new material from The Cure’s yet-to-be-released 14th album, “Songs of a Lost World.”
It all started with the sound of splattering raindrops echoing through Amalie Arena. No filler music pumping over the loudspeakers as black-clothed fans slipped into their seats. Just crackling thunder.
Cheers from 16,000 fans finally drowned out the rain. There was the unmistakable silhouette of singer Robert Smith, haloed by a grizzled cloud of teased hair.
He smiled at fans as he strolled past. This was a moment 15 years in the making. Still, he took his time looking at each corner of the arena, nodding to his followers.
He knew they’d been waiting.
The innovative English rockers have been hard at work on a new record for years. Several songs were inspired by personal tragedy following the deaths of Smith’s parents and brother, Richard. In Tampa, that pain showed.
Yet even with a setlist loaded with heavy songs, the performance felt like a triumph.
Long before Smith beat Ticketmaster on his crusade for fair ticket pricing, his talents cemented him as a hero to the alternative community. In Tampa, a city with a long history of welcoming Goths and adjacent subcultures, he’s practically a saint.
Some representatives from this local scene (read: regulars at The Castle in Ybor City) came early in their spookiest digs: white face paint and black lipstick, fishnets tucked into chunky Doc Martens, freshly-dyed locks in red, purple, green and black, spiked up, teased out and tumbling down over eyeshadow-smeared lids.
Other fans arrived in more subtle looks, like skinny jeans and vintage tour T-shirts.
“This is from 1987!” one woman squealed to a friend before scuttling off to her seat.
Scottish new wave band The Twilight Sad opened, their songs dramatic and chilling under a cloud of fog and blue flashing strobe lights. While it wasn’t their first tour with The Cure, it was their debut performing in Tampa. The dark set was the perfect mood-setter for the next two and a half hours to come.
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The Cure played 27 songs total — the shortest set out of their entire tour, though fans couldn’t have felt cheated. The first portion was 14 songs, alternating between unreleased tracks, crowd pleasers like “Lovesong” and deeper cuts.
Each night, The Cure has shuffled its setlist a bit. During this penultimate stop on their 30-date North American tour, all the changes must have caught up with them. The band launched into its uptempo “Burn” instead of the intended, much moodier new track, “And Nothing is Forever.”
“It’s like the remix version,” Smith joked before starting over.
After “At Night,” he poked fun at himself again: “That one takes me right back. We had a song we called ‘the bleak one.’ And that one was called ‘the really bleak one.’”
The heaviest portion of the show actually emerged a little bit later, during new tune “Endsong.” In front of a blood red moon onscreen and in the lyrics, Smith mourned his childhood hopes and dreams:
“Wondering what became of that boy
And the world he called his own
And I’m outside in the dark
Wondering how I got so old.”
Toward the end of the 10-minute ballad, guitarist Reeves Gabrels busted out a wailing guitar solo. The soulful wah-wah effect sounded like something straight from a Jimi Hendrix album — one of Smith’s greatest musical influences growing up.
Twice, the singer dabbed his eyes with his long black sleeves. But he kept going, his voice powerful yet ethereal:
“It all feels wrong. It’s all gone, it’s all gone, it’s all gone.”
The sorrow bled into the start of the first encore, with an even bleaker song about Smith’s late brother: “I Could Never Say Goodbye.” There was a glimmer of a melancholy piano melody. Long, distorted guitar chords.
“Something wicked this way comes to steal away my brother’s life,” Smith howled.
Perhaps the biggest treat of the evening was watching the band build each textured track layer by layer, piling on jangly guitars, a twinkle of chimes and breathless synth lines from both Perry Bamonte and Roger O’Donnell. The results ranged from dreamy (“Pictures of You”) to gloomy (“Disintegration”) to hopeful (“Plainsong”).
At 64, Smith’s voice has held up remarkably well. When he needed to reach for any note, he got there. Bassist Simon Gallup shined the whole night, but especially during “A Forest,” which he closed alone, strumming that eerie beat faster and faster under a blistering red spotlight.
The second encore was longer than the first — eight songs! — but flew by thanks to some much lighter selections. Here was a refuge of the bouncy bops you’d pick for karaoke or a mixtape for someone special. If some earlier selections felt like a black storm cloud, this was the rainbow waiting at the end of the tempest.
Fans bobbed their heads to the catchy synths and drum beat of “The Walk.” They belted along to “Friday I’m in Love” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” As he shuffled across the stage, Smith busted out his awkward-yet-endearing dance moves. A little torso shimmy here, some jerking hands up there.
Long after the rest of his bandmates left the stage for good, Smith lingered. Clutching flowers from his fans, he repeated his ritual from the beginning of the set, slowly making his way to face each cheering section of the audience and gaze out at them for a beat.
“Thank you,” he finally said. “We’ll come back and see you again.”
The Cure’s Tampa setlist
2. Pictures of You
3. A Fragile Thing
4. A Night Like This
6. And Nothing Is Forever
8. At Night
10. Play for Today
11. A Forest
12. Shake Dog Shake
13. From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
15. I Can Never Say Goodbye
16. It Can Never Be the Same
21. The Walk
22. Friday I’m in Love
23. Close to Me
24. Why Can’t I Be You?
25. In Between Days
26. Just Like Heaven
27. Boys Don’t Cry