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The View from Far Out: The Cure at Firenze Rocks Festival, Florence, Italy

One week before The Cure take to the stage at Glastonbury I got tickets to go watch them live at Firenze Rocks Festival, in Italy. Sharing the bill with two Italian bands, Bangcock (yes, BANG-COCK), who obviously listened to a lot of Rage Against The Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers and bounced around nicely in their yellow jumpsuits in the sweltering 30 degree heat. A more syncopated sound from the next Italian band Siberia followed.

Italians have a lot of love for the darker and heavier side of rock and the post-punk revivalists Siberia, craft a sound that sweeps across a number of genres although you’d pinpoint Joy Division as their main influence, especially as they replicated a creepily accurate cover version of ‘Disorder’ from Unknown Pleasures, about half way through their set. It’s not often at 15:45 in the afternoon a large proportion of a festival audience, who probably didn’t realise a band was even on stage, all stopped what they were doing, spun their heads and squinted their eyes hoping to find catch a glimpse of Ian Curtis’ flailing limbs.

Firenze Rocks Festival occupies a large field in Florence, Tuscany in Northern Italy. The four day festival which only began in 2017, last year saw Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden and Guns N Roses perform, among others. This year’s headliners saw Smashing Pumpkins, Ed Sheeran, Eddie Vedder and The Cure play, the latter being on my band bucket list of acts to see live. (And Ed Sheeran being on my list of people I would like to pour boiling hot Bovril onto). My girlfriend and I got tickets in advance for about €65 each and arrived on the Friday evening from out of Leeds Bradford airport. That week my home in Yorkshire saw much, much rain. Compared with Florence on the Friday evening which rather conveniently was the hottest day of the year so far. Talk about timing.

The festival itself isn’t exactly walking distance from the city centre but a tram directly outside Florence’s main train station costs €1.50 and is only two stops away, around 15 minutes. The event size in terms of staging, security and capacity is like those of the British Summertime gigs they hold at Hyde Park. It was a relaxed atmosphere with a select amount of food stalls and a couple of attractions including a barber’s and a supermarket on site. The main criticism is the fact that your wallet is no good inside, you can’t take large bottle of water or alcohol in with you and the whole site is a token system whereby you pay €14 for eight tokens and beers cost 3.5 tokens and water is 1.5. Come on organisers, I know you’re only three years into the festival and teething problems are to be expected, but by dusk there was very little drinking going on and bar queues were non-existent. Stop outpricing your audience. We’re here for a good time, not a long time.

And so, the good times continued with Balthazar. Big on the European gig circuit but not so much in England. Such a huge shame because in reality if someone like The National took them on tour they would be a hit instantly. They expose the glaring gap between sexy 60s noir Europop and all those elastic bass lines left untouched from bands like Portishead, Ladytron and even the sharper edge of indie disco from the likes of The Rapture and TV On the Radio. By the time ‘Fever’ dropped, which is my favourite song of 2019 so far, they really picked up the slack-jawed Firenze Rocks crowd. Editors next, who’ve added much more of a Muse style sound since I last saw them at Fibbers in York almost 12 years ago. Seemingly bigger in Europe than their native UK now, Tom Smith cut an elegant figure somewhere between Chris Martin of Coldplay and Matt Bellamy of Muse. Strangely, I’ve got much respect for that. Editors had enough great songs in their arsenal, more than what I realised, to enlighten this European gathered audience and added a fresh spark of excitement before Sum 41 took to the stage. It has to be said, Sum 41 aren’t the band for me. I was at school when they released Fat Lip and that other one which they do, I was about 14. They still sound the same almost 20 years on. Whiny, scratchy, twee with terrible lyrics about house parties and getting lost on railway lines. They carry that punk energy that European audiences crave and I’m down with that, but coming out of these guys whose idea to get everyone excited was to engage the mosh pit by shouting, “Yo, everyone where’s my mosh pit at?” I think they ought to hang up their Misfits tees, sell their skateboards and get lost along a railway line permanently.

I think other than Joy Division, who I will never get to see live, The Cure have been sitting at the top of a very distinguished list of mine. Always having eluded me on any type of music gig circuit, too far away, too expensive, or a combination of the both. When we purchased the tickets at the end of last year, I had no idea 2019 was a year when they would be everywhere, particularly headlining Glastonbury and with a new record on the horizon. So, I’m equally chuffed I got to cross them off my list. My attempt here at trying to remain impartial might not go so well as I’d like to begin by saying that this was the best band performance I have ever seen live.

At 60 years old Robert Smith completely owned it, his voice and his guitar playing were spectacular. Himself and his band played faultlessly and seamlessly for two-and-half hours. 29 songs in total with a link to the playlist in Spotify added below. In all honesty though I had no comparison, other than all their records I’ve ever heard, or even what to expect. The variety of tunes, some from the end of the 70s to the mid-2000s, took on this ageless exuberance. The band created a sonic sound like that not many counterparts would manage to recreate. At one stage in the evening as the full moon rose above the stage the symbolism between ‘A Forest’ and the moonlight provided a truly mystic beauty I’ve never fully realised before within that song.

Reading social media comments of people who’ve been to see them several times they all described this gig in much the same way. Robert, or ‘Robertino, grazie’ as many Italians shouted out around me between the delicate interludes, truly enjoyed the glory of being up there. By the end of the concert Robert finally didn’t know how to leave. Deservedly, all the applause was for him. He was almost embarrassed by it. If you’ve never been able to catch up with their output, or even dismissed them as boring, get Glastonbury on this weekend and then go out and listen to their LPs again and again and again and again and again…