Last week saw the return of Meltdown Festival to London’s Southbank Centre, but it wasn’t just a case of business as usual. As Bengi Unsal, lead programmer of the Southbank Centre’s annual Meltdown Festival, told Music Week, it was actually “the most successful Meltdown ever” – comprising 90 artists playing over 10 days and shifting 30,000 tickets. And with The Cure’s enigmatic frontman Robert Smith curating the bill – joining the list of previous curators such as David Bowie, Patti Smith and Nick Cave – it is little wonder.
Smith and The Cure concluded this year's Meltdown on Sunday (June 24) with a typically epic, career-spanning performance billed as Cureation 25, to mark a quarter-century of the festival. The first half included one song from each of their 13 studio albums in chronological order. The band opened the second section with new song Step Into The Light.
Unsal hailed the “unbelievable” line-up Smith assembled, noting that, upon Smith’s personal invitation, bands had “moved mountains” to be part of the proceedings. And when it came to the sets, they didn’t exactly take it easy either. Here Music Week looks back at three of the best gigs from the week…
A band who always maintained a healthy, peerlessly cool distance from the nu-metal scene they unintentionally helped inspire, Deftones have long been revered for the artistry and intelligence they have brought to metal. Part of that was always down to the compelling influences the band worked into their music, and that included The Cure. Indeed, they went so far as to play a cover of their slowburn song If Only Tonight We Could Sleep for MTV Icon: The Cure series with the group watching on in 2004. When they aired it in Royal Festival Hall last week, it was but one highlight on an evening comprised exclusively of highlights. Backed by screens boasting, among other things, BDSM footage and hammer horror-esque visuals, the Sacramento band veered from the molten heaviness of Feiticeira and My Own Summer (Shove It) to atmospheric rock gems like Minerva, Sex Tape and Phantom Bride in stunning fashion. The fact that they played beloved deep cut Battle-Axe for the first time in years only sweetened the deal. At the end of the set frontman Chino Moreno looked utterly elated – and not just because it was also his birthday. Perhaps he agreed with what many people in the crowd would soon be proclaiming all over social media: Deftones had just played one of the best sets of their career.
Manic Street Preachers
The Manic Street Preachers have rarely been one of those bands who are habitually deferential to the classic rock aristocracy, but being invited to play Robert Smith’s Meltdown clearly meant a lot. “No one great has ever asked us to do anything before,” quipped James Dean Bradfield, who spoke eloquently about the band’s love for The Cure and how spotting producer Mike Hedges’ name on a Cure album had led the Manics to record Everything Must Go – their most successful album – with him. Nicky Wire – returning to live duties for the first time after the loss of his mother – also paid tribute to the influence of Robert Smith’s legendary crimped hairdo but, as always with the Manics, their actions spoke even louder than their words. So their brilliant cover of The Cure’s In Between Days skipped past with the joyous ennui of the original, secure in the knowledge that the Manics have their own array of classics to draw upon. As ever, the Manics’ managed to integrate new material with old, Dylan & Caitlin from new record Resistance Is Futile rubbing shoulders with Generation Terrorists standout Little Baby Nothing (both featuring guest vocals from a leopardskin-clad The Anchoress). And they were still happy to take chances; reinventing the brutal Faster as an acoustic singalong and giving Motown Junk some added pop zest. They left the crowd pinching itself in wonder at a rare chance to be quite this close to their heroes, much as the Manics themselves marvelled at an unusual opportunity to be this close to theirs.
Nine Inch Nails
As far as album release parties go, Trent Reznor could hardly have hoped for a better soiree than the one Nine Inch Nails’ excellent new record Bad Witch received at the Royal Festival Hall. Ahead of the event, Bengi Unsal, lead programmer of Meltdown Festival, told Music Week that there are “world class gigs happening ” at the Southbank Centre, and that is precisely what NIN’s set was. Armed with an eyeball-searing light show – one that often dramatically and eerily framed their silhouettes against their backdrop – their set was designed as an overwhelming assault on the senses. For all the innate ferocity that defines some of their biggest songs, NIN’s music is made with forensic attention to detail – by no less than two Oscar-winning composers in the form of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It is unlikely you will find another venue as sonically well-equipped to contain the full scope and minutiae of NIN’s music as well as Royal Festival Hall. The sound was genuinely breath-taking, capturing both the industrial metal rage of Reptile and the ghostly elegance of Something I Can Never Have exquisitely. At one point Reznor may have joked about his “self-indulgent set list” but, really, it was a masterstroke. Spanning bona fide classics (Wish, Terrible Lie, The Day The World Went Away), incredible renditions of new material off Bad Witch (God Break Down The Door) and deep cuts (The Good Solider) it offered a totalising snapshot of the many different phases and moods of NIN’s pioneering legacy. While they didn’t follow Deftones and Manics’ example in performing a Cure cover, there were brilliant tributes to two of NIN’s biggest influences as they ran through David Bowie’s I’m Afraid Of Americans and Gary Numan’s Metal. The set ended with a haunting run through Hurt. Trent Reznor may have played this traumatic song live countless times, but he still delivered it like he was experiencing the raw emotion that inspired it for the first time. Beyond merely doing themselves, Robert Smith and Meltdown Festival proud, they put on a show that reconfirmed Nine Inch Nails status as one of the most incendiary live acts in the world.
Words: George Garner/Mark Sutherland