Live: Just The Cure For WHFS' Nutcracker

The Cure injected the spent crowd with their uniquely moody melodies.

FAIRFAX, Va. -- The Cure's frontman Robert Smith had finally shown up, six sweat-filled,

dance-crazy hours after the first note blared through the George Mason Patriot

Center.

And he wasn't a moment too soon.

Long-awaited, and the hands-down favorite, Smith and his beloved Cure

reinvigorated an emotionally and physically exhausted audience Sunday as

they blasted their way on stage with guitars blaring, strobe lights flashing and

smoke billowing. At first, Smith's squiggly voice was lost amid the chaos. Only

the blaze of biting, unmistakably Cure-like guitars filled the air, notes ringing like

massive bells.

But soon enough Smith's voice climbed to audible levels and you could hear

him squealing his way around the first of many of the night's hits, which

included "Fascination Street," "Just Like Heaven," and their new one,

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Cure,_The/Wrong_Number.ram">"Wrong

Number" (RealAudio excerpt).

The Cure

headlined the 5th Annual "HFSmas Nutcracker" concert sponsored by WHFS-FM, the

Washington, D.C.-based radio station. Their 90-minute set followed five other

bands who had tapped the energy of an audience waiting to hear their black-

clad icon. From the low-key set by Days of the New to the degrading booing

of The Verve, the Nutcracker was a mix of high energy and inertia.

Days of the New opened the night to an almost silent crowd that seemed to be

wondering at times if they'd shown up at the wrong show. The hundreds in

attendance never stirred from their seats, yet all eyes remained focused on the

stage as if the power of lead singer Travis Meeks' amazingly deep voice held

them captive.

Then one of the show's shining lights, Save Ferris, ran onto the stage, horns

sounding. The crowd was on its feet, kicking to the frenetic speed of

ska beats. The band's hyperactive dancing seemed to infect the audience.

A portal to the concourse was jammed with kids jumping and screaming to the

band's rendition of Dexy's Midnight Runners' '80s hit "Come On Eileen."

Still, Save Ferris had another ace up their sleeve, inviting the gods of

ska, The Specials, on stage for a kicking finale.

Next came Everclear, who jumped onstage, and the crowd leapt to their feet to

greet them. Although Art Alexakis' muddy vocals had trouble cutting through

the wrenching guitars, Everclear had the crowd hooked from song one, sending

teenagers pogoing in ecstasy and the entire audience singing like a bad choir

to "Santa Monica."

After a rare pause, the crowd was back on its feet to meet Sugar Ray. Lead

singer and model wannabe, Mark McGrath, was all over the catwalk, playing to

an audience ready to eat up his aerobic stage act. He shook hands, ran into the

crowd, stood on speakers and brought the token female audience-member onto

the stage, electrifying the hopes of every other adoring fan in the house.

McGrath, no doubt, knew the formula and the audience -- filled with teen-age

girls -- loved every gyrating move from his chiseled physique.

Then, in one of the night's most unexpected moments, The Verve sauntered

onto the darkened stage as smoke rose slowly behind their lanky silhouettes.

Tripped-out guitars and moody vocals clipped the high energy built by the last

three bands; and the audience just sat and stared. The Verve's huge sound on

tunes such as

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Verve,_The/Bitter_Sweet_Symphony.ram"

>"Bittersweet Symphony" (RealAudio excerpt) pounded the bleachers,

but the crowd seemed unfazed (or perhaps entranced), some fidgeting in their

seats. The reaction prompted lead singer Richard Ashcroft to shout an annoyed

"Come On!"

The band left the stage prematurely and were met with booing when WHFS

DJ Gina Crash shouted, "Let's hear it for The Verve!"

By this point, fans had listened, danced and screamed for six hours, but they

mustered up whatever energy they had left for the much-anticipated final band,

the Cure, who closed the night with old favorites such as "In Between Days" and

"Just Like Heaven." Even as fans shouted their love for the band, they no longer

kicked or jumped but moved in a slow, steady sway.

The audience cheered and stomped for an encore, which was delivered

somberly after Smith announced, "This may be the last time we ever

play." His remark sent a rumble through the crowd.

Well past midnight, the show ended with the last chords of the Cure's farewell

song echoing across emptied bleachers. The remnants of the sold-out audience

shuffled their way back into the night wondering just what Smith had meant, and

thankful that if this was to be the Cure's last tour, they were here to see it.

[Sat., Dec. 6, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]