Fun in the Sun with The Cure

Last week I was lucky enough to see two shows by The Cure on their current summer tour. Here are my thoughts on both shows:

Show #1: Merriweather Post Pavilion; Columbia, MD 06.22.16

“I’ve waited hours for this…”

My friend Sean, his high school friend Shannon and I had lawn tickets for this show, which meant arriving before the gates opened. We showed up about an hour before the gates were scheduled to open and stood in a very long line. My first thought on walking the grounds was that I did not recall MWPP being so hilly with so many steep inclines. As soon as the gates opened and we made our way inside, Sean and Shannon shot past me to go claim a spot on the lawn, and they did a fantastic job staking out our space; in the very front, parallel to the sidewalk, in view of the huge screen on the back of the pavilion, and, where I would stand was primarily flat. I don’t do lawn seats often, but I didn’t mind this setup at all.

The second thought I had as I walked the concourse and waited in line to buy a t-shirt was that there were so many kids in attendance of all ages. Did I miss something? I haven’t seen The Cure live in concert since 2008, but since then, have Robert Smith and Company become a ‘Family Entertainment Ticket’?

The Cure have been around since 1979, and they have gone through many lineup changes and styles; some fans prefer the pop of ‘Close To Me’ and ‘Friday I’m In Love’ while others, including your dear author prefer the minimalist sounds of ‘One Hundred Years’ and ‘Faith,’ so it is impossible to please everyone at a Cure show; they are going to play a song you wish they had skipped, and they won’t play all the ones you wanna hear, but I can promise even the most casual of fans that they will play something you like and at least one song you know.

After a 30 minute set by openers The Twilight Sad, and a break to get the stage ready for the headliners, the show began with the pre-recorded intro ‘Tape’ which was first used on the 1992 Wish Tour. The band members ambled onstage and Robert played guitar harmonics along with the recording and then led into ‘Open’, which opened the Wish album (and for good measure is always played in tandem with ‘Tape.’). The album that got the most songs played on this night was ‘Head on the Door’, which is appropriate. There are a lot of albums released by The Cure that remind listeners of cold unforgiving winters, but ‘Head on the Door’ is one of those great records that evokes summertime and happiness (or at least, a Goth’s version of happiness).

There were plenty of surprises, but the biggest surprise of this show came about forty-five minutes in, just as the sun had finished setting, when the band began the long atmospheric intro to ‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’ from the ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ album. That was a concert moment I did not expect and one that did not disappoint.

The band now has been together in this lineup since 2012, and they are a well-oiled touring machine. Robert still is Master of Ceremonies, standing in front of the mic, and not really moving around all that much. Keyboardist Roger O’Donnell and lead guitarist Reeves Gabrels are anchored stage right and left respectively, and drummer Jason Cooper is behind the kit. That leaves the ageless wonder that is bassist Simon Gallup as the only member who moves around on stage, and he’s a non-stop display of kinetic energy ping ponging close to Robert during solos, then moving toward Roger’s area and even a few times standing behind Reeves. I remember watching the concert film ‘Show’ which is from 1992, and loved how energetic Simon seemed onstage. I was thrilled to see 24 years later, he’s still the one who can’t stand still.

Seeing the show from the lawn meant that we could not really see the stage, but I didn’t mind. The screen above us had a good stage-wide shot, and, it’s not like the band is all that visually striking. The audio mix was fantastic for an outdoor venue, so I didn’t lose any lyrics being out on the lawn. Being on the lawn also meant a lot of people watching as fans crossed in front of me en route to the concession stands, the bathrooms or their patch of lawn. Lots of people dressed in all black for an outdoor show where the high was 93 degrees. Yes I myself considering wearing a classic Cure Tour shirt from 2008, but it was black and I knew I would sweat through it before the show even started. Something seems wrong seeing this band in particular at an outdoor venue, but despite the heat, they played non-stop for about two hours and forty-five minutes. They played the hits, a fair amount of deep cuts and B-sides that played well to an outdoor crowd that really wanted to dance. One of my favorite moments was when the band began ‘Just Like Heaven’, the single that made them MTV darlings in 1987. As the guitar intro segued into the opening line, I looked back behind me to the lawn, swarming with people, and reveled in hearing thousands of jubilant voices sing “Show me, show me, show me/How you do that trick!” It was one of those moments that could only be fully appreciated from the lawn, because it proved that, even though we couldn’t really see what was going on onstage, we were still part of the show.
The set list (from
Pictures of You
Kyoto Song
A Night Like This
The Walk
The End of the World
If Only Tonight We Could Sleep
All I Want
In Between Days
Just Like Heaven
Never Enough
From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
It Can Never Be the Same
Encore 2:
Shake Dog Shake
A Forest
Encore 3:
Dressing Up
Fascination Street
Wrong Number
Encore 4:
Hot Hot Hot!!!
Let’s Go to Bed
Close to Me
Why Can’t I Be You?
Boys Don’t Cry

Some thoughts on specific songs:
I’ve never been a fan of ‘The Walk’ but it must be one of Robert’s faves, because it’s being played at almost every stop. Even though it’s not one of my favorites, seeing Jason do the drum fills was fun, and, as usual Simon was all over the stage for this one.

While the encores change nightly, the last three songs are pretty much set in stone. The trifecta of ‘Close To Me’, ‘Why Can’t I Be You’ and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ ensures that fans leave the show happy and singing as they head to the parking lot.

Thanks again to Sean for driving and for getting tickets, and it was a pleasure to meet Shannon and see this show with her.

And then on Friday, there was…
Show #2: Lakewood Amphitheatre; Atlanta, GA 06.24.16

“Hot! Hot! Hot!’ [Indeed!]
Whoever thought it was a good idea to book The Cure on a tour of outdoor venues that landed in the Southern US in late June should be fired! Don’t get me wrong, no matter the venue (and, as venues go, Lakewood is my least favorite) the circumstances, The Cure deliver. This show though might have pushed the band to their limit, as the temperatures were in the high 90s at showtime and only went down slightly (it was 85 degrees as I made my way to the parking lot at the end of the show, according to my phone’s weather app). How hot was it? As Robert prepared to play ‘A Night Like This’ he stated ‘It’s [explicative] hot!!” I am almost certain the word he said was ‘f***ing’ but my friend Mimi heard ‘bloody’. Either way, it was a truly unscripted moment.

When I saw The Cure for the first time in 1992, they opened with ‘Tape’/’Open’/’High’ so the show in Maryland was a nice flashback. When I saw the band a second time in 2008, they opened with ‘Plainsong’, which was what began the festivsties on this night in Georgia. I was really hoping that opening with that song meant that the show would feature a few songs from 1989’s ‘Disintegration’ album, and I was not disappointed. Without further ado, here is the set list for the Atlanta show. Nothing from ‘Pornography’ but an epic NINE songs from ‘Disintegration’!

Pictures of You
A Night Like This
In Between Days
Last Dance
The End of the World
Just Like Heaven
Jupiter Crash
From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
The Hungry Ghost
Prayers for Rain
Shake Dog Shake
A Forest
Encore 2:
Fascination Street
Wrong Number
Encore 3:
The Walk
Doing the Unstuck
Friday I’m in Love
Encore 4:
The Perfect Girl
Hot Hot Hot!!!
Close to Me
Why Can’t I Be You?
Boys Don’t Cry

Even though I may have very well seen the only two shows on the entire US tour that did not feature either a song from ‘Pornography’ or ‘Faith’, the fact that ‘Disintegration’ was so well represented made Atlanta a special show. (As an aside, the very next show Sunday in Miami featured an encore that was simply four songs from ‘Pornography’! GAH!!! Maybe I’ll see something like that next time.)

Some thoughts on specific songs:

It’s great that ‘Burn’ a track released on the soundtrack to ‘The Crow’ is being played regularly. Smith has called it ‘Son of ‘Hanging Garden’’ so that was as close as I got to hearing a track from ‘Pornography’. Hearing it live, it really does fit well amongst the more upbeat numbers in the set and is placed wonderfully, right before ‘A Forest’.

‘Wrong Number’ must be one of Robert’s personal favorites. It was a bonus track stuck on their singles compilation ‘Galore’ in 1997 and again on their 2001 ‘Greatest Hits’ disc, and yet it seems every recent tour, the song has been a staple of the set. It’s not a bad song; it just surprises me that this song is a staple when there are so many other (better) songs to choose from.

Hearing the title track to ‘Disintegration’ in concert, no matter how many times it happens for me, will always make me smile and scream in unrestrained joy. This was one of the songs where Simon’s bass was so loud I felt it vibrating in my chest. Hearing that song alone was worth my ticket; the other thirty songs were a fantastic bonus!

Also of note, the band played two songs from the album ‘Wild Mood Swings’, a record that had been underrepresented thus far on tour (Jupiter Crash and Want). Those are both favorites of mine and it was great to hear them live, especially ‘Want’.

Robert recently turned 57 years old, and yet his voice still sounds very much like it did 30 years ago. He may not hit the high notes as hard as he once did, and occasionally he may have to go down an octave from the recorded version, but his voice on both nights was strong and sure. This lineup of The Cure seems like it could go on for as long as Robert wants it to. Look for a new album at some point late this year or early in 2017, and if we are lucky, another tour before too long.

Extra special thanks to Mimi for driving five hours to Atlanta to see this show with me. It was fantastic to see this band and this show with you, despite the heat and the venue’s total lack of charm.  Also thanks to my friend Tony, who introduced me to the music of The Cure twenty-five years ago, even though I wasn’t as much a fan as a captive passenger riding shotgun in his car.  My love and fandom for The Cure would not have happened without you. (It’s a really funny story that my friends have heard several times but I have never written a blog post about it. I’ll get around to that at some point.)

Thanks very much for reading.

Al Stewart at The Birchmere (06.18.16)

I have been a fan of Al Stewart for many years, but I never really kept up with him as a touring entity. I enjoyed the albums and that was pretty much it. Last summer, a full nine months in advance, it was announced that he would play (of all places) Hopewell, VA at the Beacon Theatre. I attended that show and had a wonderful time. Soon after that show was nothing but a memory, I found out that he was playing The Birchmere. Logistically, getting to Alexandria from Richmond isn’t as simple as Hopewell, but thanks to my friend Dana, we were able to attend the show Saturday night.

In March, Stewart was accompanied by virtuoso guitarist Dave Nachmanoff, and he added another dimension with his performance. Dave is on the road promoting his own record (“Spinoza’s Dream”) so for the most recent leg of this tour, including the Birchmere show, Al was accompanied by Marc Macisso.

Was this show as good as the show in March? No. Macisso is a great musician, and plays a whole lot of instruments (Flute, harmonica, bongos and saxophone), but he doesn’t play guitar. Stewart is a fantastic songwriter and lyricist, and he is a serviceable rhythm player, but he is not a lead guitarist. As good as Macisso was as an accompanist, the absence of a lead guitar was felt, and, even though it wasn’t mentioned, it seriously limited the songs from the catalog that could be performed acoustically. Having said that, the evening did have some nice surprises:

*Al played a short ditty called ‘The Candidate’, written in 1984, about those that run for the office of President who never have any chance of winning. I was hoping this would segue into his classic ‘Warren Harding’ but it did not. He did play it later in the set though.

*With Marc accompanying him, this meant that I got to hear ‘Time Passages’ and ‘Year of the Cat’ complete with sax solo! Now, granted, the production on those two songs is great, but it sounds so ‘of its time’ that the sax sometimes gets in the way. But, I was very happy to hear the solo performed on sax instead of on guitar. And, since the solo is in a different rhythm than the rest of the song, for both ‘Passages’ and ‘Cat’ before the solo started, Marc had the crowd clap on the offbeat so he could keep time with Al’s guitar, because, with no drummer counting, it would be very easy to get completely lost and never make it back to the chorus. I’m not sure how many in attendance realized why Marc was so insistent they clap along, but it made for two very cool moments.

*One of the additions to the set list since I last saw him was the song ‘Gina in the King’s Road’ from the 2009 album ‘A Beach Full of Shells.’ A lot of Al’s later (i.e. non-70s) material doesn’t get showcased live, so it was a nice surprise to hear this song from an overlooked record.

*At the start of the encore, Al talked about the current lawsuit involving ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and played a number of songs all with the same chord progression to demonstrate how many songs sound similar but different enough to be their own original compositions. Earlier in the set, Al talked about how he ‘wanted to be Roger Daltry’ when he was a kid, but knew immediately that he would never sing like that. His dreams of being a musician were rekindled when he heard Dylan for the first time and said ‘Hell, I can sing like that!’ He even sang a verse of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and quoted ‘Ballad of a Thin Man.’ As a fan of both artists, it was a brief collision of two worlds.


*The best story of the night was about one of the few songs in Stewart’s catalog that everyone knows. While on tour in 1975 opening for Linda Ronstadt , Al’s piano player would test the sound levels during soubdchrck every night by playing the same melody, and after several nights in a row of hearing that melody, Al went to his piano player and said “I’ve written some lyrics to that melody and I’d like to record it. ”

“No  it’s an instrumental.”

After asking his pianist several times, Al eventually received the go ahead to record the song with his lyrics, after assuring the piano player he could record his instrumental version. Sl’s version of course became the smash “Year of the Cat.” (No one knows if the instrumental version was ever recorded.)

*Lastly, Al told the story of meeting Leonard Cohen in 1966 and showing him lyrics to a song he had just written (‘In Brooklyn’). Cohen complimented him; a moment that Stewart says is still the highlight of his career as a songwriter.

Special thanks to Dana for seeing this show with me, and to The Birchmere for being one of the best live music venues around. I love the Birchmere so much that I am able to look past the hyper young kid who kept bouncing on the booth seat next to us for the entire show, and I am willing to forgive the (very) talkative fan who sat at our table and talked for an hour straight before the house lights finally dimmed.

House of Clocks
Flying Sorcery
Broadway Hotel
On the Border
Night Train to Munich
The Candidate
Time Passages
Warren Harding
Fever (Marc Macisso Solo)
Route 66 (Marc Macisso Solo)
Pinball Wizard (riff)/Subterranean Homesick Blues (snippet)
Gina in the King’s Road
Year of the Cat
Stairway to Heaven/Teenager in Love/Stay (snippets)
In Brooklyn

The Violent Femmes Are Still Calling All the Freaks — Live at The National 06.15.16

Bands are like a marriage; there are milestones, celebrations, fights, and sometimes (more often than not actually) the whole thing ends in a nasty break-up.

Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie have a complicated relationship. As the two primary members of The Violent Femmes, they’ve worked together for over thirty years, although the last ten years have been tumultuous. The band members have sued and counter-sued one another over royalties and credits due over the entire span of the group, so when I heard they were touring and making a stop in Richmond at The National, I was curious; would the show be a train wreck?

In an amazing twist, this is without question the most profitable the band has ever been as a touring entity, and proof of this was offered by a raucous sold out crowd of jubilant fans who pogoed, moshed, bobbed and sang along, happily revisiting songs that were staples of their youth (which, at least in the case of your author, was a very long time ago).

There was at least one song that everyone in attendance knew, the song that ‘broke’ the band in 1983, and eventually, to many fans’ dismay, ended up in a Wendy’s commercial decades later. ‘Blister in the Sun’ by most accounts is the hit that you would think the band would save for the end of the show, or at least for later in the evening, but the Femmes, perhaps just to ‘get it out of the way and over with’ opened with their most popular tune. After that, the set leaned heavily on the band’s classic eponymous debut album (which should be part of your record collection if it isn’t already), but they also proved they are not just a nostalgia act by featuring two songs from their latest record (called “We Can Do Anything”) which was released earlier this year.

As I listened to their music earlier in the week, I began to wonder if the song ‘Add it Up’ would be omitted from the set, or have a verse censored due to the massacre in Orlando. Listening on my iPod, when I heard the lines ‘Don’t shoot shoot shoot that gun at me’ I cringed, and I thought if the song was featured in the set at all, it would be censored. Much to my surprise the song, which served as the final encore of the evening, was played in its full uncensored loud obnoxious angst-driven glory, and it was wonderful.

I’ll give Gano and Ritchie credit. They may not be speaking to one another, and they barely acknowledged each other on stage, but when they hit the stage, they were able to put all of that aside and give the fans what they wanted. It was a joy to travel back to a time when the most pressing thing in your life was your math homework and figuring out how you were going to work up the nerve to talk to the prettiest girl in school. The Violent Femmes’ music is timeless, because each generation brings a new crop of nervous, nerdy, awkward teenagers trying to find their footing and The Femmes are able to provide the perfect soundtrack for that awkward stage that we never think will end. Mercifully it does end, but if you’re lucky, your fandom for The Violent Femmes will carry on into your adulthood.

Shout out to my brother Brian and his wife Mary. It was a pleasure seeing this show with you.

Blister in the Sun
Kiss Off
Good For/At Nothing
Love Love Love Love Love
Prove My Love
Country Death Song
I Could Be Anything
Old Mother Reagan
Freak Magnet
Gimmie The Car
Hallowed Ground
Gone Daddy Gone
I Held Her in My Arms
Good Feeling
Life Is an Adventure
Jesus Walking on the Water
American Music
Black Girls
Add It Up

–Barry, who doesn’t really care what went down on his permanent record.

Dolly Delivers – Live At Wolf Trap 06.08.16

Dolly Parton brought her ‘Pure and Simple’ tour to Wolf Trap Wednesday night, and played to a packed house, presenting a career-spanning set that covered the hits, some of her personal favorite gospel songs from her childhood, some new songs from an album that will arrive later this summer, and stories…lots and lots of stories.

“Thank you for spending your hard earned money to see me, because you have no idea how much it costs to make me look this cheap!”

Dolly’s shows are more ‘family reunion’ than performance, with Dolly onstage, unassuming, flashing that smile and laughing, regaling you with stories from her nearly fifty-years in showbiz.
As I watched and listened, I was immediately struck with how her voice sounded; now seventy (!) years of age, her voice sounds stronger and better than it did at the height of her popularity in the late 1970’s/early 80’s.

This tour was absent any huge production pieces, apart from a raised bench seat on wheels that she used for a portion of the show. The main focus was on the songs and the stories, and even though I had heard it said before, Dolly does talk on stage as if she’s in her living room having you over for lunch, as breezy as could be.

The venue did an excellent job taking into account the outdoor elements when mixing the sound, and even though I was surrounded by fans (and the occasional mosquito) on the lawn, the sound carried very well all the way to the back of the venue, making sure no one was left out of the fun.
Dolly joked about her wigs as her ‘hair’ repeatedly got caught in the headset vocal mic she used. ‘Don’t worry; it doesn’t hurt when I pull it!’ She talked about growing up in the Smokey Mountains as part of a family of twelve kids and mentioned that she and her husband Carl recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by getting married again (’We can’t remember why we did it the first time, so we got married again!’)

It goes unnoticed by many how great a songwriter Dolly is. I mean, she’s made a living out of her ‘look’ (and she looked amazing) but, beyond that, the songs she has written have stood the test of time and been recorded by not only other country singers, but across all genres, most notably Whitney Houston’s record shattering rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You.” Last night, as she performed hit after hit, she proved, without actually mentioning it directly, that she’s a superb lyricist and writer. Also she displayed her talent for playing many instruments, including guitar, banjo, fiddle, piano, dulcimer and, the one that surprised me the most, the saxophone!


As I made my way among the throngs of fans, back to the car and back to reality, one thing was clear: We are now all in love with Dolly Parton. Even from seemingly miles away on the lawn, she will capture your heart.

Thanks to my friend (and big-time Dolly fan) Meg for bringing this show to my attention. It was a joy to see this show with you!

Set list (from
First Set

Intro: Hello Dolly
Train, Train
Pure & Simple
Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That
Precious Memories
My Tennessee Mountain Home
Coat of Many Colors
Smoky Mountain Memories
Rocky Top/Yakety Sax
Banks of the Ohio
“A Slice of American Pie” Medley: American Pie / If I Had a Hammer / Blowin’ in the Wind / Dust in the Wind / The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The Seeker
I’ll Fly Away

Second Set

Baby, I’m Burnin’
Outside Your Door
The Grass Is Blue
Those Memories of You
Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
Little Sparrow
Two Doors Down
Here You Come Again
Islands in the Stream
9 to 5

I Will Always Love You
Encore 2:
Hello God


A Nice Place To Visit…

It’s Summer Concert Season, and this month I am seeing some great shows, starting tomorrow:

June 8 – Dolly Parton at Wolf Trap
June 15 – Violent Femmes at The National
June 18 – Al Stewart at The Birchmere
June 22 – The Cure at Merriweather (Maryland)
June 24 – The Cure in Atlanta

That list doesn’t even include shows later this summer (I’ll get to those in another post); the reason for this entry? As noted above, I’m returning to Atlanta…and I’m kinda freaking out about it.

I haven’t even really thought about Atlanta (except following the Braves) since I left the city on a very cold February morning in 2013, crammed into the backseat of a car that contained almost everything I owned. I had lived in Atlanta for the previous six months, and had developed a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with the city I truly believed would be my home.

It didn’t work out that way, and I am very glad that a) I tried to make it work and b) I wasn’t stubborn enough to stay there while my health and mental state got worse. When I left Atlanta, I was in the absolute darkest place mentally. I had no desire to return to Atlanta, and even stopped watching Atlanta Braves baseball for the 2013 season because it brought up a lot of wounds that had not yet healed.

Now, three-plus years since my exit, I think I am ready to walk the streets of the ATL again without getting physically ill, or heading into an emotional tailspin.

I’m glad it’s just for a few days, and I am thrilled that I’ll be seeing some friends. In fact, before the Cure show was announced, my friend Mimi (Here’s the story of the first time we met in Atlanta) and I had talked about touring/stalking the outdoor sets of ‘The Walking Dead’ so, once the Cure show was announced, that was the catalyst to set all of this in motion. My main objective, apart from catching up with some dear friends, stalking TWD and seeing The Cure, is to stay busy. I’m not even sure I will take the transit system (MARTA) because, one of the last times I was in a MARTA station is when I had a major emotional breakdown, to the point where I do not recall the walk home from the station to my apartment.

Ironically, the Braves won’t even be in town the weekend I visit. I had hoped to see them play on the Thursday before the Cure show, but the start time was moved from a night game to an afternoon game, and my plane won’t land in the city until an hour after scheduled first pitch. That’s okay, and it’s probably for the best. The team is horrid this year, and I think visiting The Ted (Turner Field) will be akin to a wake, as the team and the city play out the string of games in 2016, literally counting down to Opening Day April 2017, when the Braves leave Downtown Atlanta for a shiny new park in the suburbs.

Like I said, I want to stay busy while I am there, because I know myself well enough to know that if I am alone in my hotel room, mindlessly flipping channels, it will remind me too much of how things ended the last time I was in Atlanta.

Lots of things have changed in the 40 months since I was last there, and I think I will be fine and I’ll have a fabulous time. Atlanta and I still have a strange relationship, though. You know the old adage, ‘Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there’? Well, I already know I don’t want to live in Atlanta. I just hope, after ‘breaking up’ with the city and doubting I’d ever be back, that after this visit, Atlanta for me is once again a nice place to visit.