Personnel: Robert Smith (vocals, guitar); Roger O'Donnell (keyboards); Jason Cooper (drums).
Recording information: Bestival (09/10/2011).
The Cure could be found in a mix of holding pattern and seemingly constant activity in 2011, with an irregular series of world-wide performances of the band's first three albums and a slew of guest appearances and one-offs by Robert Smith on his own and with other performers standing in for either new or reissued albums. But there was also a one-off headlining performance at the Bestival in the U.K. that summer, resulting in the band's first official live album since the Show and Paris releases of 1993. Feeling more like a souvenir than anything else, it's above all a portrait of a band that has the knack of handling a career-spanning catalog down cold, something with both positive and negative sides to it. On the one hand, besides a thankfully clear mix that feels like a brisk soundboard recording, there's the treat of hearing a then-unique quartet lineup of Smith, Simon Gallup, and Jason Cooper matched with the then-recently returned Roger O'Donnell adding keyboards for the first time in some years. If it's not quite Seventeen Seconds all over again, performances of "Play for Today" and the inevitable "A Forest" do happily nod in that direction. Smith himself still sounds in astonishingly well-preserved voice, only occasionally stepping aside from some high notes while sounding as moodily powerful as ever on guitar -- not to mention as half-understandable as ever on his occasional song introductions. On the other hand, Smith and company have been playing this kind of set for years upon years when it comes to general or festival audiences, emphasizing the big hits of the first 15 years of their career. Out of 32 songs, literally only three of them couldn't have appeared on either Show or Paris -- happily one of them being the underrated "The Hungry Ghost" from 4:13 Dream -- while the remainder of the selections leans much more toward the hits and singles than the album cuts, stalwarts like "Plainsong," "Push," and "Disintegration" aside. (Though the appearance of "The Caterpillar" is a fun surprise, having never been played for a full-on show by the band once since 1984.) Bestival Live 2011 is an understandably honest reflection of the Cure in the popular mind as their commercial high point recedes further into the past, but given Smith and the band's other contemporaneous activities, it's an incomplete portrait. ~ Ned Raggett
Entertainment Weekly (p.83) - "All 32 tracks are performed with the band's signature gloomy/giddy passion." -- Grade: A-
Uncut (magazine) (p.83) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]his captures The Cure at their crowd-pleasing best, an ageless band revelling in their past."