Have you ever been to a concert where nobody showed up?
I've actually been to a number of these type of shows over the years. I can remember for example seeing Genesis with Peter Gabriel around the time of Selling England By The Pound with about 50 other people in the 8000-seat capacity Seattle Center Arena. The crowd was so small they actually put the stage in the center of the arena and had one full half of the place curtained off.
Genesis themselves, God bless em', still delivered their full theatrical spectacle even if it must've felt more like a dress rehearsal to them. So roughly fifty delighted fans were treated to Peter Gabriel complete with his various fox heads and masks, weaving his stories around the wildly progressive (for the time) sounds of Genesis at a creative peak, years before they devolved into the worst formula rock band of all time under Phil Collins leadership.
I had another such experience seeing The Cure about ten years later in the same building. Same deal. A curtained-off stage in the center of the arena this time before a slightly more respectable crowd of about 200 devotees decked out in various shades of gothic black.
My interest in the band at the time was strictly casual as the darker sides of my musical taste ran more to bands like Echo And The Bunnymen and the lesser known Chameleons. So I really didn't know what to expect from the band who would soon launch a million or so covens of goth kids around the globe.
In a word, The Cure were dark. Very dark.
So much so it prompted the friend I went with to come up with one of the most original one-sentence reviews of a concert I've ever heard.
By the second song my friend looked over at me and said, "Glen, it's midnight and the crows are beckoning." It was at once the most hilarious and the most accurate description of what we saw on that particular night I've ever heard.
But there was also some very interesting musical terrain being mined by the Cure onstage that night. In between all of the darker hues, you could make out some very distinctive pop hooks and even a hint of funk in the basslines. Underneath the wiry jet black hair and pasty white facial makeup, Robert Smith was also an impressive vocalist who managed to somehow make the dark detachment of his songs sound almost, well emotional.
About a year after that show, The Cure released The Head On The Door, the album many fans cite as the record which began The Cure's evolution from the goth dungeonmasters that I saw in concert that night into the worldwide pop phenomenon that produced a string of hit albums like Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration.
And make no mistake about it, with The Head On The Door, Robert Smith was intent on broadening the musical canvas of The Cure. Coming off what was arguably The Cure's most non-commercial album ever, The Top, The Head On The Door sounds like a collection of pop singles by comparison.
The themes of darkness and isolation are still prevalent and the album still has enough minor chords to keep the black nail polish crowd happy. But there are plenty of hints here at the poppier direction to come, most notably on tracks like the leadoff "In Between Days" and the hit single "Close To Me".
On "Kyoto Song", Smith incorporates oriental brushstrokes into the mix. On the album's standout track "A Night Like This," the band mines a more familiar dark drone which is then broken up about midway through by the sort of gorgeous sounding sax solo you'd find more at home on a Supertramp record.
Returning bass player Simon Gallup again provides a hard funk bottom popping his way through what would otherwise be more standard Cure fare like "Screw". The seeming contrast of a decidedly funkier rhythm section and the more standard doom and gloom of The Cure actually works remarkably well throughout The Head On The Door.
On the remastered treatment of this new version from Rhino, those nuances — from Gallup's bass popping to the broader textures added to the Cure's trademark drone — are newly enhanced in the mix, making this reissue that all too rare case where the treatment is actually warranted. The recording here is mixed several notches brighter, allowing the high end to shine far above the droning low of the original version.
The bonus disc is also truly a real bonus. Nearly all of Head's original ten tracks appear here in various stages of their growth in demo versions. The result is a rare glimpse into the actual creative process where you are able to almost visualize these songs as they began to take shape. On "A Night Like This" for example, the smooth sax solo of the final version veers into more experimental territory, sounding almost like something out of the Coltrane book of avant garde jazz.
Rhino has also reissued new remastered versions of The Top and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which I will most definitely check out based on the results here. If those reissues are anywhere near as surprisingly good as this, this represents an all too rare example of the label getting it right, rather than just simply cashing in.