For a band known to wallow in gothic gloom, The Cure turned Sydney Opera House into a seething party.

Long before an unexpected encore including the hits Boys Don't Cry and Lovecats, the sold-out audience on Tuesday night was dancing in the aisles like a giddy episode of Glee.

This wasn't how things were supposed to be. The word 'retrospective' invoked visions of chin stroking over chair dancing when used to describe the centre-piece of Sydney's Vivid Live festival.

The Cure would be performing their first three albums, Three Imaginary Boys, Seventeen Seconds and Faith, all recorded between 1979 and 1981 and easily the band's less commercial work, in a three-hour entirety.

That they did and then some, even the songs which singer Robert Smith had reservations writing all those years ago - and the ones he didn't such as the cover of Jimmy Hendrix's Foxy Lady - went down a storm.

"I never really liked that one," Smith chirped, referring to his own song, Object, just ten minutes in.

"It worries me that I remember as much as I do," the wild-haired singer joked a little later.

Nostalgia may have played its part but there was more to The Cure's majesty than plucking through the motions.

The first of two special shows at the request of Vivid curator, Modular label boss Steve Pavalovich, stretched far beyond its contractual three hours.

At its centre stood A Forest, The Cure's first chart hit and the one always destined to fill the concert hall like no other.

Smith's voice still sounds like a clarion call creeping through fog but it's lost none of its boyishness.

The Eno-esque ballad of The Funeral Party and his siren coo on The Drowning Man would have proven the perfect finale.

That was until a clue revealed itself in the bleak but bewildering set closer, Faith, with Smith teasing between chiming synths, "The party just gets better and better".

With former drummer Lol Tolhurst returning on percussion for the first time in 22 years the band were never likely to go quietly.

Three encores and 13 more songs sent the audience skywards. Killing An Arab, I'm Cold, Jumping Someone Else's Train, Charlotte Sometimes, Let's Go To Bed.. all the tunes we weren't supposed to hear.

A night reserved in celebration of three seminal albums it may have been, but as Smith announced after completing the first: "In the old days that was it. But we have another year."