I finished my Christmas cookies in record time, and by my thinking, that ended the holiday right there. Without sugar and food coloring, December 26th could no longer be festive, just winter. With confectionary merriment in my rear-view mirror, I did what I do most winter nights – walk to a bar to see a local band. Kansas City didn't get a white Christmas, instead flurries arrived just in time to blur my glasses as I made my way to the Record Bar. I was there to see Magnificent – a long-running Cure tribute act that plays one or two shows a year, usually around a holiday. While the act's lineup has changed throughout the years, it's always been led by vocalist Byron Huhmann. Huhmann and his compatriots each have a long history in the Kansas City area music community. Visit his Discogs entry and go down that rabbit hole if you want to lose a day. Same with brother Brad Huhmann (bass), Mike Alexander (guitar), Kryzstof Nemeth (baritone, acoustic guitar), and Michelle Gaumé Finn (vocals, glockenspiel, flute). No keyboards or drums? Correct. Those are all pre-programmed by Huhmann.
Paying tribute to The Cure is tricky. The London act has been active for 50 years, evolving from punk followers to post-punk luminaries, to goth pioneers, to alternative darlings, and now to venerable statesmen playing to arenas of fans uninterested in the band's most recent albums. Magnificent rightly focuses most of its efforts on The Cure's mid-1980s output, with 1985's Head on the Door, 1987's Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, and 1989's Disintegration accounting for fourteen of the 30 songs they played. The band, also rightly, keeps their covers close to the originals. Huhmann has Robert Smith's plaintive cries down pat, as well as his yelps and sighs and other vocalizations. Brad Huhmann followed Simon Gallup's basslines whether they led him through knotty thickets, or three-note statements. Nemeth most often mimicked the baritone or acoustic guitar of Robert Smith, the latter adding a buoyant respite from the often dense and textured source material. Mike Alexander was tasked with recreating leads from each of The Cure's varied and talented guitarists. Shockingly he didn't excel on the band's 1970's post-punk material ("10:15 Saturday Night" didn't have the reckless explosion I hoped for), but instead he triumphed on the complicated songs from its later period. His playing on the tracks from Disintegration was divine, and his nevermind-the-charts solo in "Letter to Elise" (from 1992's Wish) was a set highlight. It was also when he broke his second string of the night. The regular addition of Gaumé Finn's glockenspiel often shifted the tone from the originals, though hearing the band's melodic leads chiming front and center was a delight. The combined result paid homage to the songs without resorting to cold reproduction, and that seemed to be the right balance for die-hard Cure fans, friends of the musicians, as well as those just looking to get out of the house on a cold night.
As the band got deeper into its two-and-a-half-hour set and the liquor began to do its job, Huhmann started climbing around on the stage, exploring the club, and singing and dancing with fans. The money used for his wireless microphone was money well spent. The rest of the band wasn't nearly so mobile, though Gaumé Finn got one heck of an aerobic workout as she danced with a tambourine that she never stopped shaking. The audience put in a solid shift of their own, especially during the songs they knew and loved. During the band's deeper cuts, they rested and recovered – just as The Cure has been around 50 years, so has its fans. I didn't dance much as I knew I had to walk home without any life-affirming simple carbohydrates to fuel me. I'd knew that need to conserve my energy for shivering. It's plain old winter now, you know.