What does a live Cure album mean in 2011? At the time of Bestival Live 2011‘s release, one could easily purchase three (out of four) earlier Cure concert albums from the goth godfathers’ 32-year recording career. But the most recent of those came out in 1993, and none of them bore anything like the comprehensive scope that Bestival boasts. In 1993, the Cure had only recently reached their commerical peak as international rock stars, but in the 18 years between then and Bestival‘s release, Robert Smith and company acheived such unshakable elder-statesman status that it’s probably only Smith’s perpetual rat’s-nest locks and deathbed pallor that kept him from getting knighted. The double album’s satsifyingly career-spanning track list dovetails nicely with the 21st century Cure’s perspective as gracefully aging alt-rock icons, with tunes to please both the hardcore and the hit-hungry.
The occasion for this rewarding rearview-mirror glance — which, it should be noted, also goes all the way up to the band’s most recent studio album, 2008’s 4:13 Dream — was a particularly triumphant 2011 appearance at the Isle of Wight’s Bestival event (proceeds from the album go to a charity for Isle of Wight youths). Even given the fact that stalwarts Smith and bassist Simon Gallup — both in their early 50s — are younger than most of their post-punk peers, the amount of energy The Cure injects into the lengthy show is impressive, and one would probably be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and an early ’90s live show in a blindfold test.
Bestival offers the opportunity to take a tour of the band’s long, fruitful career, stopping at each stylistic turn in their journey to take in the sonic scenery, but it also adds the freshness that only a live performance can bring. We get the angular, existential New Wave pop of the early days (“10:15 Saturday Night,” “Killing An Arab”), the early-’80s Goths Gone Wild era (“Primary,” “A Hundred Years”), the group’s emergence as moody popmeisters (“In Between Days”), and more. Sure, if you just want a straight-up anthology of the band’s shining moments, there are a number of those on the market, but considering how long it’s been since the last live Cure album, Bestival seems like a more satisfying choice for longtime fans.