So the other night I saw the Cure – a band I loved desperately as a sullen, depressed teenager – play Disintegration, their most depressing and sullen album.
And look, it was great. Robert Smith’s voice is ridiculously good, the band were on fire, and I still knew every word that burned my teenage ears despite my now being a grown adult who has had sex.
Here’s the thing, though: as sets go, it wasn’t amazing. And that’s because Disintegration gets pretty turgid in the late going.
And that’s one of the big problems with the increasingly popular play-album-start-to-finish concerts: the dynamics of a great album and a great setlist are fundamentally at odds.
Part of the reasons is that precious few albums have nothing but bangers, since an all-banger album is kind of exhausting and artists tend to like some light and shade in there.
But more importantly albums tend to front load the hits, the exact songs which setlists save for the end. You know, to leave the audience on a high, rather than relieved that it’s finally over.
I have seen far, far too many of these sorts of gigs by artists of, shall we say, A Certain Demographic, and there have been some inventive ways to work around the dynamic question.
For example: They Might Be Giants played their Flood album in reverse order, thereby saving The Hits like ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ and ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ for the big finish.
And that wouldn’t have been a terrible idea with Disintegration since all the singles – ‘Pictures Of You’, ‘Lullaby’, ‘Lovesong’, ‘Fascination Street’ – are in the first half of the album.
Side two is a series of dirges which are perfect when you’re 17 and going through your first proper breakup, but not exactly a crowd-pleasing series of killer jams.
There’s a reason why the Pixies followed their Doolittle set with a bunch of hits, and the Jesus & Mary Chain played Psychocandy plus All The Songs People Would Rather Hear.
And sure, maybe the audiences for these shows would rather hear a bunch of familiar songs in a predictable order while sitting in a comfy Opera House before getting back to the babysitter, but… look, would a couple of hits really kill you?