The once and future Starwood is a constant in the lives of many Nashvillians, much like a relative you don't see as often as you probably should. The outdoor throng of it all, the post-show performance art piece we call trying to leave the parking lot, the overpriced beersthey all make up the ritual of going to see that band you like when they've reached a certain point in their careers. As I stood in line to pick up tickets for the Curiosa Festival last week, I realized I hadn't been here since The Spice Girls in the late '90s.
It was on a musically fateful day in late 1987, on a church youth retreat, that I made the acquaintance of The Cure. Now, 17 years later, I found myself heading for a daylong confluence of all things Curewhat a friend called "Gothapalooza." The diehard and the devout were present for the event, a package tour designed to appeal to fans who came of age with The Cure some two decades ago, along with younger listeners hip to newer acts like Interpol, whose wall of sound invokes the early '80s British post-punk scene from which The Cure first emerged. Black dominated the color scheme of the day, and makeup skills were profoundly more accomplished than at Ozzfest or your average Belle Meade society dinner party. But the diverse selection of bands also allowed for some promising audio crosspollination. Joe Bass, one of a sizable group of Vandy students who had come specifically to see British art-thrashers Muse, came away with a lot of new music to experience. His girlfriend, a huge Cure fan sidelined in Colorado by previous commitments "but present emotionally," insisted that he be sure and immerse himself in as much of what Cure frontman Robert Smith and company had to offer.
The benevolent shadow of The Cure loomed over everything at the event, and as the time for their set grew nearer, you could feel a weird sense of anticipation flowing through the grounds. Young and old, there was an uneasy nervousness manifesting itself in fidgety shuffles on a grand scale, even as countless kohl-rimmed eyes focused on the stage, waiting. Carla Harrison, a suitably glam and successful businesswoman with her own dark-eyed memories, experienced a private moment of revelation as she waited, realizing that she'd "collided with what I mocked years ago." Now she was "trying to get back into how things were and what makeup used to mean to me. I feel like the metalhead at the high school reunion."
A musical experience can be different for each person, and seeing thousands of people feel the music on their own terms was a marvel. One of the ongoing pleasures of the festival was seeing audience members sport a grand variety of Cure shirts from tours past, some going back to the band's first U.S. tour in the early '80s. I spent the later portion of the Cure's set toward the front of the lawn section, but off to the side, observing how the bass lines could be seen in the ebb and flow of bodies drawn into the music. It was art on a large scale, a canvas of flesh shaped by the music of a band who still know what they're doing, mapping out the infinite spaces of the heart, mind and soul.