The Cure is afraid of becoming too popular. The six-piece British punk/new wave/art-pop-dance band probably hates the idea of giving up its underground image, but it's too late now - at least by the looks of the enthusiastic response to the group's latest tour. The controversy and accusations of racism over the Cure's 1979 single ``Killing an Arab'' is evidently over now - and the group's latest album, ``Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me,'' a double-record set, has put the group over the edge into star territory. It was from this album that the band drew most of its material for its sold-out concert here at Madison Square Garden.
The show opened with a larger-than-life movie of lead singer Robert Smith's lipsticked mouth and teeth, with an occasional eyeball thrown in, all to the accompaniment of a typical Cure instrumental vamp - dark, foreboding, menacing.
But the Cure, in spite of its punk-image carryover, which manifests itself in some pretty mean and nasty lyrics, has another side that is more whimsical and one that seems to be coming out more these days.
The group has been called quirky, eccentric, weird, and unpredictable, all of which has been true from the first (the band is 10 years old), but the ugliness seems to be giving place to a more humorous, poetic, and melodic side, which is full of irony, imagination, and punch. The Cure's new album attests to all this, and this is exactly why the concert here fell short of being an artistic success.
Huge rock venues and their sound systems make it inevitable that whatever subtleties are to be found in the music that's performed will be obscured.
In the case of the Cure, which depends on arrangements rather than guitar or keyboard solos, these subtleties were drowned, leaving only a huge wall of sound - rhythmic and forceful, but lacking in the inner voices and striking countermelodies that characterize the band's music on record.
Mr. Smith's unusual voice - sometimes a growl, sometimes a thin, reedy cry - faded into the background on most of the songs. As a result, everything started to sound the same after a while - which was all the more disheartening, since no song sounds like another on the album.
Indeed, popularity is a dilemma for musically sophisticated bands like the Cure, since they're expected to perform in gigantic halls and stadiums that can accommodate the sheer numbers of their fans.
The one really moving moment in the program was the outgoing vamp on ``Like Cockatoos'' - with its majestic, baroquelike orchestral buildup. It's a pity they had to cut it off short.
Visually, there really wasn't enough going on to add much to the performance. The band stands more or less still, and even laser beams, colored lights, mural backdrops, and occasional smoke bombs didn't help to make it a standout show.