Then-current album: Wish
Opening acts: Cranes, Dinosaur Jr.
Back of ticket ad: at the time I would have laughed at the KLSX ad as being inappropriate and now…
Those hole punches in the ticket amuse me a bit, really. Not one but two of them, doubtless applied when I was going into the stadium or via some sort of gate setup outside. Anything to be absolutely sure I was legitimately there.
And this show, and this band at long last, and a transition.
Following the burst of shows at the start of June I was hunkering down and wrapping things up — final shows at KLA, final weeks at the apartment I’d lived in nonstop for three years just outside of campus, graduation. (As you can see here if you’d like.) This was all leading into a period of about a month — more like six weeks, probably — of an interregnum, in between UCLA as a student and moving down to UCI to start grad work. But I was still in LA, and shortly after this show I ended up with roommate Steve and some friends in a spot somewhere else in LA — I honestly don’t remember where, on the Westside near the 405 some miles south of Westwood, Culver Cityish, I think.
I still have fond memories of this period for a variety of reasons — in a weird way it was one of the most carefree of times, for all that it was also one of my busiest. The apartment was a really nice one, there was a huge amount of music either coming out or about to be released, the larger sense of ‘alternative’ being this thing, however randomly defined or ill-defined, taking hold with newer bands to explore all the time. There was also the building excitement for what would be my first trip outside America, a three week or so visit to the UK to attend a conference at Oxford about J. R. R. Tolkien, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of his birth as well as to explore a bit of the UK in general. I remember a lot of randomly good meals, conversations with friends, many other personal things — the whole feeling was of a warm glow, a happy bounce.
Which also included shows, and that meant this show, which I had been wanting to see for what seemed like — what was — years.
I had fallen for it back in 1989, I had thought Robert Smith wasn’t kidding when he said the Cure would be wrapping up as a going concern after the Disintegration tour, which due to bad timing I had completely missed. I had spent months kicking myself over that, walking around UCLA in my second year seeing endless numbers of tour shirts from folks who had been to the Dodger Stadium show. Time led me to realize that Smith was, perhaps, not being fully truthful with his statement, but it was a good reminder that tours are, after all, pretty grueling if you’re the person on tour rather the person waiting for the show to arrive.
And I’d been waiting, waiting, waiting. While 1989 was all about the big rush of getting lost inside Disintegration — and why yes I’ve been indulging in the reissue this year — as well as exploring Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, the following years was when I started going backwards, listening to everything else, making sense of everything a bit more in my head about their story, about Smith, about moving beyond the initial iconographic rush. “He played with Siouxsie? There was this Glove band? This song references this book? Hmm…” It helped that I also adored the Mixed Up collection (still do, can’t wait for that reissue either) and so when the word started going around that there was a full new album to come I was beyond excited, because that had to mean a tour — they were finally coming back.
I frame the Cure and Los Angeles around this time the same way I do Depeche Mode, their own ‘imperial phases’ — to borrow a term that Neil Tennant aptly used to describe his own band’s seemingly do-no-chart-wrong moment — almost totally overlapping. In a way, this show felt like the sequel to — and from a longer distance, the ending moment in contrast to — Depeche Mode’s Rose Bowl concert in 1988, the arcing upward towards breakthrough and utter triumph on the level of pop. But not quite there for them yet, that followed in 1990, with the Cure cresting in 1989 as noted. When Wish came out in 1992 it debuted at number two, the band had a big hit single with “Friday I’m in Love,” but in a way it felt obvious that this would be the case, rather than the big shock. To play the Rose Bowl wasn’t as retrospectively surprising as Depeche four years previously, it was logical. Of COURSE they would play the Rose Bowl, they’re the goddamn Cure! When one of the KROQ DJs introducing them this night said something about how one of the local Top 40 stations had called up asking if the Cure had any other albums before Disintegration, the sense of superior mockery of sad ignorance wasn’t just in the DJ’s tone of voice, it was in all of our heads to start with.
The album, in a way, summarizes, extends and elaborates on that sense of stardom, of new attention and focus, while finding a happy fragmentation that’s not quite as radical as Kiss Me but isn’t the sheer, wonderful monolith of Disintegration. It was a great album to listen to driving around LA with friends, and that sense of summer glow I indicated earlier still suffuses the album for me — further heightened, of course, by the show.
It was a beautiful day, it was late June in Los Angeles and the Rose Bowl’s setting is a perfect spot to be enclosed within something still broad and widespread, an isolation under the endless sky with thousands and thousands, part of a huge sprawling metropolis and yet feeling like it was all miles away, hundreds of miles. I went with a friend of my friend Steve M.’s; he didn’t want to go but he knew a friend of Arkansas who did — she was a kick, hilarious, and to top it all off she helped me move from the old apartment to the new one the following week. Gotta love people like that.
Most of the big shows I’ve been to since this one had crowds that were a bit…rowdier, let’s say. Lollapaloozas were for moshing, doncha know. I couldn’t tell you what Coachella shows were like but I have a feeling they follow that line of general descent. This show was one of feverish activity but not regular displays of blatant stupidity, though I doubtless am overlooking them in my head. It was almost like this calm swirl of happiness and conversation and anticipation, multiplied many, many times over. The sun burned down but didn’t FEEL like it was burning down, I’m sure, and though 5:00 pm was the start time — rightly so, given how long the Cure’s set turned out to be — it wasn’t middle of the day exhaustion crawling into evening torpor.
We were on the floor, not stage center but not too far off from the line of it, I think; unlike the stage setup familiar from Depeche’s 101 film they weren’t set up in an end zone but along one of the sidelines, a wonderful sprawl of a set in ways. Everything felt closer as a result, a nice touch. Cranes kicked it off first and I was pretty excited to see them; they had supposed to play with Slowdive earlier that year before it was cancelled so even though this was hardly going to be an intimate club show I was all for it. They had been handpicked by the Cure and I’m willing to bet I was probably one of maybe a hundred or so people who even knew who they were slightly in that crowd, but I liked the fact that they went ahead and did their thing — dramatic, starkly beautiful, isolated, strange, downright out of place with their surroundings throughout, Swans as post-goth/4AD prettiness, Einsturzende with hooks and a ‘conventional’ instrument lineup — without apology. Still a fan, and more to say about them later in the series.
Dinosaur Jr., meanwhile, were hilarious, and great. I think I actually first heard of them when I heard the “Just Like Heaven” cover back in 1989, so I had to wonder if their addition to the bill was some kind of strange joke on someone’s part. But Smith loved them without reservation and at the time I hadn’t realized that J. Mascis had started out as a bit of a goth himself, if in the Birthday Party vein more than anything else, so there was more rather than less sense to be found here. Like Cranes they just went ahead and did it, their own commercial breakout as such didn’t fully kick in until later that year and following, and mostly I remember Mascis’s hair flying in the wind, Mike Johnson on bass playing away and, of course, the fact that they did indeed do their cover of “Just Like Heaven,” with no abrupt ending this time. A lot of people around me were a bit confused.
Then, at last, the Cure. It’s a little hard to talk about just the memories of this show for the simple reason that a date in Detroit on the same tour was filmed and released on video as Show, so there’s an easy way to double check most of the details, the film projections, the general feeling at least visually. At the same time that’s a construction that is solely visual and audio, from multiple perspectives, not my sense of watching from a distance across a sea of darkened figures, all standing, similarly cheering, seeing them as a brightly lit island that was near enough to take in well, far enough away to be a full spectacle, on a warm night growing cooler as it went.
No one song stands out, it’s all about the impressions — the screens on either side of the stage cutting between various video projections of the band members, for instance, sometimes showing Robert at the mike singing and playing, often showing Boris Williams’ steady work on drums (and I’m still very happy I got to see him at least once live with the band). The overdriven glow of the lights at their brightest, the reactions to new songs and old songs both — “From the Depths of the Deep Green Sea” does come to mind now, it’s no surprise that one has stayed in the sets over the years. A sense of ‘at last’ for me, yes, but not in a surprised way, more in a slightly comfortable way, a feeling of correctness. Knowing now that they would never have as much of an entree into pop as that almost makes me a bit melancholy, for lost time, for continuing obsessions — all very Cure-like, really.
I do definitely remember getting out of the parking lot took a long damn while, though.