OSLO — The Cure closed out the first day of Øya, Norway’s largest festival, on Wednesday (Aug. 7) with a free-flowing and varied set. The band’s two-hours-and-15-minutes-long show had the band digging deep into their back catalog, and saw the frontman in an uncharacteristically playful mood.
“I’ve never seen him dance!” exclaimed one of his devoted fans in the crowd. This was the 8th time he´d seen Smith perform, and the first time he’d seen so many smiles and moves from the traditionally dour, reserved singer/songwriter.
The iconic alternative rock group delivered a set that balanced their biggest chart hits with lesser-known tracks from some of their acclaimed ’80s albums. The 60-year-old Smith danced during encores and even flirted a bit with the audience — excusing his lack of Norwegian skills — for the sold-out festival crowd of 17,500. The set from the recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers — the longest scheduled for any act at the four-day festival — was a dream come true for the festival’s founders, who have wanted The Cure for “a long long time,” says booking manager Claes Olsen.
The show started before sunset in Oslo, and ended at 11 p.m. (Everyone, including The Cure, seem to be punctual in Norway.) Among the 27 tracks were many classics, like “Pictures of You,” “Plainsong,” “Just Like Heaven” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” and the group also dusted off many songs from their beloved Disintegration album, which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary this year. But they also broke out “Primary” from 1981’s Faith, and “The Walk,” the 1983 stand-alone single from when the band was reduced briefly to two founding members, Smith and Lol Tolhurst.
While The Cure celebrate 40 years since their debut album Three Imaginary Boys in 2019, this year’s Øya festival also marks the 20th installment of the event, which mixes international acts with a heavy dose of Norwegian pop and rock artists. It has grown from a tiny gathering organized by friends and 800 paying customers in 1999, to a sold-out event in Tøyen Park in the heart of Oslo, with 70,000 attendees over four days.
Aside from The Cure, James Blake delivered an elegant mix of slow introverted songs, like the powerful opening “Assume Form” and the smooth and bass-driven “Timeless,” while displaying just a little more light than his earlier darker albums. But the British electro-soul artist, who recently added more fall dates to his Assume Form tour, seemed content at the main stage and chit-chatted away, asking the audience why he was performing in daylight, saying he always prefers nights. (Answer: the days are still long in Norway, with sunset at around 9:30 p.m.)
Also taking the stage was Norwegian singer Fay Wildhagen, who is already well known to the Oslo audience. At 26, this was her third time playing at Øya in her hometown. That doesn’t mean she´s getting used to the attention, and this year´s stage was her biggest yet — inside a dark circus tent, away from the bright Norwegian night.
“Let us kose oss,” asked Wildhagen, using the peculiar Norwegian term for “cozy, warm and cuddly.”
Her music is more interesting than just cozy, though — and with a full band including saxophonists, trumpets and a contra bass, she played both her well-received and intensely poppy “Leave Me to the Moon,” as well as the more edgy “Lionheart.” The jam-packed tent, as well as the very attentive audience, seemed to make the seasoned artist almost shy, as she exclaimed that this “was the best experience she’d ever had.” (Norwegians are not known to exaggerate.)
Another Norwegian artist, Thea Hjelmland, opened the main stage in a less-shy fashion. More than, once she left the stage and went into the crowd, where she performed several of her songs. She led a line of jenka dancers while performing, and made an already good show an unforgettable one for the crowd of dancers on the field.
The British rock band Idles from Bristol brought a strong anti-fascist message to the peaceful festival, singing about the racist media and a neo-liberal struggle, while performing songs from their brilliantly titled 2018 album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. “Are you OK?” asked lead singer Joe Talbot. “Yeaaaah!” answered an enthusiastic audience. “That´s because you don’t live in the U.K.,” replied Talbot.
They followed up with a song directed at Boris Johnson, the recently instated British Prime Minister, with the chorus “Bye bye, Boris.”