Regardless of age or genre, a band’s stadium credentials are always questioned by certain individuals, especially when it comes to the romance surrounding the teen loneliness of The Cure. But every spectator in the Manchester arena on November 29 fell in love with the dark alternative pop giants all over again. Sheer stage presence alone made everyone’s inner voice say “this is gonna be good” when the quintet entered the stage. In addition to it being the band’s 40th anniversary year, such presence, hype and box office power when a band is that long in the tooth is a hefty golden seal of brilliance. The anticipation couldn’t be contained with most of the crowd turning up at 8.15pm – just as Robert Smith and co., who consistently start early to accommodate sets just shy of three hours, break into the night’s fierce and dark opener ‘Shake Dog Shake‘.

This was followed up by slices of glorious pure pop: ‘A Night Like This‘, ‘The Walk’, ‘Push’. Smith and co-guitar wizard Reeves Gabrels unleashed great gushes of shimmering melody, drenched in reverb; bassist Simon Gallup thumped out his rugged basslines, all the while acting as the band’s inexhaustible audio-visual metronome, swinging from one side of the stage to other, stopping only to adopt rock poses in front of the fish-eye cameras that beam close up of his crotch onto the giant screens. Roger O’Donnell’s sharp synths lifted the delicious gloom of ‘Sinking‘, before we’re back onto breezy street with a string of hits: ‘Pictures Of You’, ‘High’, and ‘Just Like Heaven’.

Smith still committed to his iconic hairdo and eyeliner-lipstick style at 57 – aside from the occasional cute “Than-Qu!” the enigmatic front man remained relatively quiet in between songs. But the 26-year-old ‘Primary’ got him chatting. “The older we grow,” he laughs about a chorus lyric. “I was 20 when I wrote that song. I must have known something; I’m still not sure what, though.” After several other soaring dark and melodious tracks, the loud and unapologetic ‘Give Me It’ brought an end to a maddened, main set after just 16 songs. Encore one starts with so much atmosphere and suspense that gradually snowballs into the incredible ‘A Forest’. Another exit and return delivers a peerlessly elegant version of ‘Burn‘, their theme song for The Crow movie. Rousing holler brought them back for a third and final encore. It’s an epic quintet of tracks: ‘Lullaby’, ‘Friday I’m In Love’, deathless pop masterpiece ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘Close To Me‘, and the party starter (in this case, the grand finale) ‘Why Can’t I Be You?‘. It’s almost two hours of glorious, timeless fun, 23 stone-cold Cure classics, with three encores that crown a near perfect setlist, with both the band and audience reluctant to leave! Once again, The Cure have cemented themselves as dark, pop gods.