Many fans of the Cure first encountered them with 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, a double album filled with bouncy pop confections like “Why Can’t I Be You?” and “Just Like Heaven,” or with Disintegration, 1989’s swirling atmospheric masterpiece that nails the sound of severe depressive episodes. On these albums, Robert Smith & company’s coverage of each “point on a bipolar scale” wasn’t an affectation—it was a lifestyle. Or so it seemed to the average listener given the band’s peculiar look: pancake makeup and weeping willow hair that gave them the air of stage clowns in a Restoration madhouse.
So associated are they with an arthouse look and new wave pop-to-tortured goth sound that many people find it jarring to discover just how punk they once were. Though able from the start to rip out pop gems like “Boys Don’t Cry,” the band inhabited a harder-edged territory in their first few years. In the late 70s, along with The Damned, Joy Division, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, they carved out the space of British post-punk and new wave before there was any such thing as “goth.”
As you can see from their first TV appearance, at the top, the spare, spiky hooks and atmospherics that form the basis of their sound predated the distinctive look, one so easily packaged, copied, and parodied later on—and turned to excellent cinematic account by Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands and Sean Penn in This Must Be the Place.
The televised performance took place at Theatre de l’Empire in Paris on December 3rd of 1979, by which time the band had been already been together for several years, though they were still very young (Smith only 21), and had only just released their first studio album, Three Imaginary Boys. In the full performance, above, see them play the title track and their controversial, Camus-inspired, first single “Killing an Arab.” They open, in the first clip, with a new song that would appear on the next record, Seventeen Seconds. It’s one that presages the supremely moody ambiance of Disintegration, but without that album’s lyrical focus. Here, what would become “A Forest” is played as “At Night,” with entirely different lyrics.
In these early performances, we see how formidable The Cure was as a minimalist punk band, and how effective is Robert Smith’s angular guitar work, which earned him a spot in the touring version of Siouxsie and the Banshees that year as well. (See him play “Love in a Void” with them above in a ’79 television performance.) Like that band’s earliest work, The Cure drew directly on the raw energy of punk in both their musical and sartorial choices. Only later did they develop into the gloriously mopey goths fans know and love, as the 80s made more flamboyant demands on music fashion, apparently, and Smith became a more eccentric version of himself, turning his extreme introversion into a series of theatrical, tragicomic personas.
via Laughing Squid