“I was never one for nostalgia,” Robert Smith, lead singer of long-running English postpunk band the Cure, told an audience that filled Agganis Arena to capacity on Thursday night. “Having said that, the first time we came to America, I spent my 21st birthday here” — meaning Boston — “and we played these songs. So we’ll take a trip back, with you.”
The terse, wiry selections that followed — “M,” “Play for Today,” and “The Forest” — were from the group’s 1980 sophomore LP, “Seventeen Seconds.” Here, they comprised a concert’s second encore, following a 16-song main set and a previous three-song encore. The Cure would return two more times before evening’s end, first with four further tunes, and then another five.
Not long ago, the Cure mounted a brief tour devoted to faithful recitals of its first three albums, cult classics that didn’t predict the pervasive fame that would come when a richer, more emotionally charged style coincided with MTV’s musical glory years. Those shows catered to cognoscenti; by contrast, the group’s present North American tour instantly set social media abuzz with breathless reports of three-hour shows spanning the group’s entire oeuvre, packed with rarities and sprinkled with new songs.
That range has been catnip for the trainspotters who lurk on setlist.fm, charting not just which tunes were resurfacing but also how many years had passed since their last airing. The Agganis outing was relatively stingy with rarities, though “Sinking” reportedly had turned up just one time before on this tour. (June 2 in Boise, if you must know.)
What was most remarkable about the concert was the way Smith and his cohorts —
Indeed, despite a pervasively low-key stage presence that relied on a galloping Gallup for most of its visual energy, the concert felt unexpectedly fresh, its material resonant and relevant. Prescient, even: Smith, customarily typecast as a brooding Goth mope, had anticipated emo with his anguished intimacy, and provided ample fodder for post-rock’s development in the stately, psychedelic throbs and swells of his ’90s output. That the latter impulse hasn’t faded was proved by “It Can Never Be the Same,” a new song; strip away Smith’s warbling vocals, and what would remain could just about pass for buzz bands like Mono or Explosions in the Sky.
Businesslike in his customary black frock and flyway mop, Smith sang with impressive freshness all night; fleeting smiles and the occasional lolled tongue suggested he was enjoying himself. Dispensing with his guitar for most of the fourth encore, Smith danced at his microphone throughout “The Perfect Girl,” “Let’s Go to Bed,” “Close to Me,” and “Why Can’t I Be You?” In one last show of consistency, he twitched and jerked like a marionette controlled by an amateur puppeteer: unselfconscious, uninhibited, refreshingly and reassuringly honest.
At Agganis Arena, June 16Steve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.