We'll begin with the obvious question: Why does Tim Kasher need a solo career? After all, the Cursive frontman has already branched out with the Good Life, a side project which often bests its progenitor. And since the Good Life was initially a vehicle for Kasher's more experimental, pop and singer-songwriterly leanings, a solo album and tour is a little confusing. This year's The Game of Monogamy has all the earmarks Kasher's fans have come to expect: It's a thematic record based on the vagaries of love and marriage with plenty of raw, self-flagellating, confessional songs and an overwhelming fixation on sex. One could argue that Kasher's covered these themes in fine detail on Cursive's Domestica and The Ugly Organ, but the new songs Kasher performed at Off Broadway address the topics with traces of maturity and a more refined pop palette.
Blame the icy roads and our meteorologists' doom-laden forecasts for the thin crowd; about 100 people gathered for the show, many of them die-hards who already knew the words to the newest material. For this tour Kasher has enlisted a trio of Chicago musicians, and they filled in Monogamy's orchestral flourishes on synths, trumpet, bass and violin while Kasher played a beat-up acoustic Gibson. The set opened with "I'm Afraid I'm Gonna Die Here," a scene-setting story song wherein a couple meets, falls in love and struggles with the ensuing ennui that attends settling down. For listeners more accustomed to Kasher's Cursive work, it was a nice change of pace to hear him sing rather than scream and bellow. "No Fireworks" followed, and its jazzy, laid-back intro morphed into more a more muscular push and pull. The band's multi-instrumentalists showed good sense in supporting Kasher's words but never let their musicianship overwhelm the song.
Kasher trotted out a few songs from his back catalog as well, and Good Life fans were in for a treat. "Empty Bed" came first, and its theme of recrimination and righteousness sounded as good amid a set of new but similarly pitched songs as it does on 2002's excellent Black Out. "You're No Fool," from Album of the Year, came next, again underlining how Kasher's thematic predilections have spread over his different incarnations and albums. Later in the set, Cursive's "The Recluse" was performed, and though the band last night didn't even attempt to bring any Cursive-esque fury to the song, its essence shot through even in a stripped-down setting.
Monogamy's most catchy tunes came in the set's second half, with the affecting ballad "Strays" getting the biggest response from the fans clustered near the stage. Likewise, the bouncy "Cold Love" was a reminder that Kasher can write simple, straight-ahead pop songs when he's not tied up in overarching narratives. The set ended with "Bad, Bad Dreams," the album's straightest, funniest and most honest examination of carnal yearnings. Leave it to Tim Kasher to turn a Catholic boy's confession into a head-bobbing pop song.