Long-time fan Scott Kara joins hundreds of Cure fans at Sydney's Opera House for their epic Reflections show at the Vivid Festival.
Robert Smith looks as haphazard as ever. Although hardcore Cure fans, like the hundreds of devotees in the Sydney Opera House tonight, would probably say he looks beautifully bedraggled. His clothes are a size or two too big for him, and a little ragged. The lipstick, while not as thick these days, is smeared, and that hair has evolved from a bird's nest to a rat's nest. Still, at 52, Bob's lucky he's still got a mop of hair to tease within an inch of its life.
The Cure's leader - for going on 35 years now - wanders up to the microphone, beams, and says a bashful "Hello" before launching into 10:15 Saturday Night, the first song off the band's first album Three Imaginary Boys from 1979.
Its "drip, drip, drip" refrain is a rowdy first-up sing-a-long.
While it's a mostly pedestrian version of the song, which is understandable since Smith and band have played it thousands of times before, the thing is, many of the 44 songs in the ensuing three and a half-hour set don't get played much at all.
This show - as part of Sydney's music, light, and creative event the Vivid Festival - is about playing their first three albums in their entirety. So that's Boys, 1980's Seventeen Seconds and Faith from 1981. It's a Cure fan's mecca and why tickets to this week's two shows sold out in minutes.
Even though they were consecutive albums, they're an odd combination to play together because the first record's punkier, at times poppier, and unrefined sound - made up of songs Smith wrote as a teenager as well as a cover of Hendrix's Foxy Lady - is disparate from the other two.
Smith claims in author Jeff Apter's book Never Enough: The Story of the Cure that the band's manager, New Zealander Chris Parry, manipulated the recording of their debut to get as many songs out of them as possible. It wasn't the album Smith wanted to make, and the more spare and eerie sound of Seventeen Seconds and Faith was what he was aiming for.
And it's the more accomplished latter albums that are the highlight tonight.
Then again, the Cure as a trio - made up of Smith, lurching and lunging long-time bass player Simon Gallup and drummer Jason Cooper - do a thrilling whip through the debut, moving from shouty and trashy on Grinding Halt and It's Not You, to lovely dreamy versions of Another Day and the title track to end.
"In the old days that was it," says Smith, "but we'll see you in a few minutes."
For Seventeen Seconds keyboardist Roger O'Donnell joins the fold, and later for Faith keyboardist and percussionist Laurence Tolhurst (or Lol as he is known) appears, which is the first time he's been in the band since 1989, around the time of Disintegration.
He was one of the original members of the Cure, but for many of those years he was a divisive force in their ranks. He eventually left the band in 1989 - and since then he's sued Smith over royalties and ownership of the Cure name, but now the pair have kissed and made up.
And tonight Tolhurst looks reasonably happy to be here. Well, as happy as you can be playing synthesiser to a maudlin mope of a song like The Funeral Party.
But first it was Seventeen Seconds, an album where Smith took total control of the band's creative vision. It's the second half of the record that's most impressive, with a wonky and twisted take on instrumental The Final Sound, before the haunting groove of A Forest (although sorry to be a picky Cure geek but at just seven minutes it's not long enough), and the muscular bop of M is one of the Cure's best unheralded songs.
It's Faith though that proves the most dynamic and timeless of the three. Primary (the best song of the night) is a banging and turbulent post punk anthem, as is the tough and steely Doubt, and it's balanced out by the blissful synth swoon of All Cats Are Grey and the title track with its final line, "With nothing left ... but faith".
And that was it. Well, almost.
Just in case you haven't worked it out, I'm a huge Cure fan. They were the first band I ever really loved. I used to dress like Robert Smith, although living in New Plymouth one drew the line at lipstick, eyeliner and bird's nest hair. But basketball boots, baggy trousers, and big blousy shirts were what I (sometimes) wore. Cure posters plastered the walls of my room. More importantly, albums like Head On the Door, The Top, Pornography, and the three albums Smith and his cohorts are playing tonight, are what I listened to. And more than that, the Cure opened my mind to the stranger, more interesting music that was to be found in the world.
The first time I saw the Cure play at the Wellington Town Hall in 1992 I shed a tear when they played Charlotte Sometimes, a song I had named my dog after.
I can happily report there was no such blubbering during that song tonight. Because rather than a night of nostalgia, this was a party. Especially the rip through a string of hits and b-sides at the end, which included classics Boys Don't Cry and Killing An Arab, the dour World War alongside the uppity jump-around of Plastic Passion, and the industrial gothic hammering of The Hanging Garden.
"Something weird happened after The Hanging Garden," says Smith cheekily, after coming back for the third time. "It was this," as the bouncy, playful, idiocy of Let's Go to Bed rings out, and later, the cheesy yet fitting finale of The Love Cats.
Robo - and even his old mate Lol - are beaming. Before Smith wanders off for a pint of Guinness - or whatever his tipple is these days - he jokes, or perhaps it's a hint of things to come, how he'll see us back here soon for "The Top and ..."
Well, hopefully, Pornography, The Top and Head On the Door which would be a far fruitier mix of records than this lot.
Who: The Cure
Where: Sydney Opera House
What: Reflections, playing first three albums: Three Imaginary Boys (1979), Seventeen Seconds (1980), Faith (1981)
Scott Kara travelled to the Vivid Festival courtesy of Events New South Wales.