Originally envisioned as a Cure concert and a tribute to the band, the cancellation of Lollapalooza turned Curiosa into something more: an opportunity to show that “modern rock” still not only has artistic merit, but draw, as well. Though the Cure will always remain an arena force, the good news from the Home Depot Center was that some of their more talented, younger followers — handpicked by the Cure for the fest — may one day be able to headline these types of venues as well.
Key on that list is Interpol, the second-billed NYC quartet that was barely a club headliner less than two years ago. Their first disk, “Turn On The Bright Lights” (Matador), was a slow-burner to success, but the crowd’s fever for the band — the roar as they started “Obstacle #1” was matched only by the response to the Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” — was a sure sign that they’ve reached the masses. Their performance, too, was indicative of their newfound on-stage comfort level. They are now a confident band; even in the bass-drum breakdowns of their most dour songs, singer/guitarist Paul Banks doesn’t look lost like he used to, and the washes of fog that covered the stage seemed gloomily appropriate rather than convoluted cover-up. Songs from the forthcoming “Antics” (Matador) fit the Joy Division mode of their debut, with splashes of reggae-punk splashed in — a small step forward, but a step forward, nonetheless.
The Cure’s set was far superior to the band’s gig this year at Coachella, but still lacked depth. Opening with the labyrinthine “Lost,” also the first cut from the band’s current self-titled Geffen release, the band seemed in good spirits for their hour-and-a-half set, which focused on newer material and deeper album cuts that seemed lost on much of the crowd. While they did play hits, “Just Like Heaven” and “Lovesong” among them, singer-songwriter Robert Smith looked lost in the tunes. He broke out of his shell for some stellar acoustic strumming for the final encore, “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Early in the day, the Rapture and Mogwai provided a point-counterpoint argument for the Cure’s influence on their music. Mogwai’s instrumental roars matched the anxiousness of later Cure without the lovelorn lyrics, while the Rapture, another Gotham group, blasted through a half-hour of dance-rock that echoed the spirit of the Cure without the goth doom.
The venue’s layout placed the second stage in a tennis stadium over a flight of steps and through a festival vendor’s fair, giving the bands there an unfair disadvantage to draw a crowd. Still, Head Automatica’s disco-punk was jolted by Glassjaw singer Daryl Palumbo’s intense vocals, and the Nebraska emo pioneers Cursive shined when they allowed room into their songs’ dark recesses, with cello and keyboards providing balance to the shrieking rock that sometimes followed it.