In Spring of 1980, just as Robert Smith was about to turn 21 years old, the Cure, supporting their sophomore release Seventeen Seconds (and new single “A Forest”) made their first trip to America. They played six dates, including three in NYC at the Hurrah’s nightclub, where Chris Stein and Debbie Harry turned up to meet them.
From the now quite pricey and rare 1988 Cure bio Ten Imaginary Years:
On 10 April, The Cure went to America for the first time.
Robert: “We’d obtained cult status out there but we only played New York, Philly, Washington and Boston. We played three nights - 15, 16 and 17th - at Hurrah in New York and it was packed.”
Simon: “It was done on a shoestring budget but it was lots of fun. Instead of having cans of beer backstage, we’d have shots of Southern Comfort!”
Robert: “It was like a holiday. Even at this point, everything we did, we didn’t think we’d be doing again so we used to go to bed at about five in the morning and get up again at eight just to go out and see New York.”
On his return, Robert told Record Mirror how America meant “being bombarded by people who all ask the same questions and all want to shake your hand . . . you just find yourself getting sucked into the whole rock ‘n’ roll trip which we’re trying so hard to get away from” while Sounds’ Phil Sutcliffe, who’d accompanied the band to New York. told, in an article “Somebody Get Me A Doctor,” how Robert had done his utmost to avoid having his picture taken with Debbie Harry.
Although these two videos from one of the nights at Hurrah’s were posted by the creators, Charles Libin & Paul Cameron, ASC, a few years back, they’ve had precious few plays. If only all shot from the audience videos of the punk/post-punk and new wave era were done this well.
“A Forest” was the set closer, while “Secrets” was the first encore, played next.
More footage was shot in Boston on April 21st at a short-lived club called The Underground which lasted only from February 1980 to June 1981, but presented gigs by Bauhaus, Bush Tetras, A Certain Ratio, OMD and Lydia Lunch’s 8-Eyed Spy during its brief moment.
Again from Ten Imaginary Years:
Robert: “My 21st birthday happened in Boston and, after the gig, Bill and the four of us got taken to some art media event by this guy who was making a video of us. We had some drugs. I remember a TV and a set of homemade videos and we got bored and insisted this bloke drove us back to our hotel so he took us in his Beetle - the five of us and his girlfriend!
It was a little cramped so I got out and sat on the bonnet—it was about five in the morning so we thought we’d take the risk. Bill then decided to drive and went the wrong way round a roundabout without thinking. When he realised it, of course, he just kept on going round, laughing insanely and then he got hysterical, got a flat, slewed across the road and I fell off the bonnet.
I tried to change the wheel - I don’t know why I was doing it - but I couldn’t understand why the hub-cap wouldn’t go back on so I started kicking it, and it was only a few seconds later, when the pain suddenly reached my brain, that I realised the reason the hub cap wouldn’t go back on was because my thumb was trapped underneath it. I’d just reduced it to pulp! After that we drove to New York overnight but ended up in Cape Cod because Bill had taken a wrong turn! We eventually arrived at the airport just in time to catch the plane to get back to London for Top Of The Pops.”
This performance was taped by a guy named Jan Crocker and members of the MIT Film/Video Group with four cameras. Boston’s own Mission of Burma were the opening act. You can see more of this footage at his website.
And finally, here is a considerably worse-for-wear looking Robert Smith telling the BBC of his youthful 1980 visit to New York some 32 years later in 2012, including an explanation of why he didn’t want to be photographed with Debbie Harry (He should be so lucky!).