Just Like Heaven

Robert Smith shuffled to the distant left of the stage at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre, pulling at a cuff on his long-sleeved black shirt and widening his egg-white eyes at the well-mannered West Palm Beach audience. For virgins to the Cure's live spectacle, the 44-year-old Smith's perfected miming of euphoric delirium was part tall tale from a haunted mansion innkeeper and part Michael Jackson parable on celebrity idiosyncrasy that wistfully filled their glass to its brim with iconic expectation.

This was the surreal rock moment that had lured many in attendance, the one that stood out in the hopes of out-of-towners during their less romantic, beaming afternoon journey past automobile accidents and walls of perma-deconstruction alongside I-95 to the amphitheatre. Yes, a sweating, black-clad, feminine ogre dabbed up heavily in white face paint could not offer such a drink of refreshing escapism without an indisputably classic array of urban tropic hits like "Mint Car" and "Close to Me." Such was the touted reasoning for this Saturday evening, July 24, the first date on a month-long tour billed as a rosary-like celebration entitled the Curiosa Festival.

But what should have been a more balanced orchestration of hip musical homage by the first two opening acts felt more like inspired rehearsal sessions. In a doleful concert season that has left a once-mighty Lollapalooza Festival in the state of a flattened brass instrument, the scattered audience (which grew to capacity as the evening wore on) at a pyrotechnics-barren stage for the brief, dronish, supernal set by Scottish outfit Mogwai and the lauded dance-club stabbings of New York's the Rapture was prematurely disconcerting, doing little to support a recent exposé in Entertainment Weekly magazine on the vanishing chasm of popularity between a upwardly mobile indie rock scene and Zeta bro rock.

Ironically the Cure would soon prove otherwise, although the Curiosa tour's second-stage rejects, which ranged from the horse-riding, Heart-gone-metal petulance of Auf der Mar to the arbitrary trail mix of rock bands Head Automatica, Cooper Temple Clause, and Thursday, offered some unwelcome hints.

Out of the three opening acts on the main stage, the Rapture, who appeared decidedly underdressed in jeans and tees, are closest to the Cure in its Eighties heyday. Grooving into a fully blossomed day trip of jams such as "Sister Savior" and "Killing," singer Luke Jenner launched his thousand-yard valentine stare on the grassy knoll behind the seating area, and drummer Vito Roccoforte slammed his cymbals like rain puddles, grinning with a satisfaction worthy of David Grohl. Currently overshadowed by less charismatic flukes such as the Killers and Secret Machines, the Rapture consistently ripped with a presumably innocent fatalism that drew impressed applause from its onlookers.

But that was nothing in hindsight to the reception for the monolithically daunting "real deal" performance by Interpol. Carefully cut out from a pristine copy of Flaunt magazine and accessorized with cigarettes and Rorschach-inflicting strobe lights, the dapper boys unleashed their lasciviously monotonous sound. As testament, frontman Paul Banks could not even begin the confessional interlude to set opener "Obstacle 1" before a Spanish knockout in leather stilettos stood awe-frozen in the audience like a mannequin sacrifice to bassist Carlos D.

The one-two punch of depth-charged emotional pop and haute professionalism exerted by these up-and-coming bands was an ideal aperitif (sans an appearance by the Stills) to toast the Cure's ruby-smeared legacy, if not its present artistic agenda. That version -- currently on display through the Cure's latest, self-titled album, with its awkward fire-and-brimstone delivery and testosterone injections -- is better suited for Ozzfest. The band's new songs, such as the utterly cliché political misfire "Us or Them" (which was set to a looped clip of pissed-off, symbolic ants on the video screen above them), and the jarring guitar solo epic "The Promise" (played against an image of light tunnels spinning counterclockwise), were third-degree killjoys that exorcized the near capacity crowd's energy before a Hail Mary encore of "Close to Me," "The Lovecats," "Why Can't I Be You," and "Boys Don't Cry" pummeled requests into submission.

By the end of the Cure's hour-and-a-half set, one could argue that time has been kind to Robert Smith. His vocals hit every melancholy note of "Pictures of You," and the 'do and mind that birthed Tim Burton were notably intact and electric.