Cursive | Cymbals Eat Guitars | Conduits April 20, 2012 Off Broadway
You don't expect a mosh pit to erupt at a concert headlined by a Saddle Creek Records band, but if it's a Cursive show, you should. Though one of the first groups signed to the Omaha-based record label, Cursive helped define and yet kept distance from the "Saddle Creek sound," unfairly amalgamated with label-mates as an "emo band." Over the group's seventeen-year stretch they've endured line-up changes and hiatuses born of frontman Tim Kasher's side projects (read: the Good Life and solo work). Cursive never really rocketed beyond that early 2000 indie explosion into the mainstream like Bright Eyes, Spoon and Rilo Kiley. It was and forever are, though, legends in the hearts of its fans, both old and new, both dated and forever feverish. Cursive is a band you can pick up after years and have an immediate rapport with its members, even if the closest you ever got to them was flirtation. And they put on a fucking ferocious live show.
Before the crowd at Off Broadway (3509 Lemp Avenue; 314-773-3363) could revel in the band's musical melange of whiskey-fueled hang-ups, melancholy and madness, two openers helped set the evening's pace. The show opened at 8 p.m. with Conduits, a six-piece outfit from Omaha (including Good Life drummer Roger Lewis), which easily dwarfed the Off Broadway stage. Lead singer and tambourinist Jenna Morrison's arresting, stirring set of pipes slid from whispers to a gut-wrenching wails, keeping the audience rapt in suspension, mesmerized by such sterling strength and feeling. Between songs Morrison seemed expressionless, disinterested and composed, staring straight ahead with a scowl and hair draping her face, but her power at the microphone was undeniable, and the band's playful interactions with one another buoyed the crowd's energy.
Following a 30-minute plus set by Conduits were New York noisemakers Cymbals Eat Guitars, a tidal wave of thrashing sweat and song. The balance of Conduits shoegaze spirit and songwriting against the edge and raw emotion of Cymbals Eat Guitars geared-up the audience for Cursive, a band that blends the two sounds so seamlessly. Solid tour support enlivened the room, which incrementally grew to teeming numbers by the time Cursive took the stage at 9:45 p.m. Tim Kasher and crew didn't mince words before launching into "This House Alive," the first track on the group's latest record, I Am Gemini, released in February.
Cursive records seem to have a divisive effect in that fans either revere to revile them. Though no stranger to heavy-handed lyrics, Kasher is an artful songwriter, never afraid to be too honest or share too real an emotion. A concept album, I Am Gemini explores two sides of one soul, as told through the mythology of Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins. The record examines familiar themes, marked by mysticism, insecurity, wounds and wistfulness of the heart.
Kasher's talky, tenacious timbre roars into the next song, "Big Bang" from Happy Hallow and then it's another fan favorite, "A Gentleman Caller" from 2003's The Ugly Organ. Bleeding vocals and guitar carry us into the next song, "The Cat and Mouse," from I Am Gemini. Wild gypsy sound emanates from the Kasher, who wields his guitar like a battleaxe. "Retreat!" from Happy Hollow follows and a theme of staggering new songs with fan favorites emerges -- though the formula deviates for the next song, when guitarist Ted Stevens churns out the knot-twisting "A Red So Deep" swirling with heartbreak and betrayal from Cursive's Domestica and that driving, tempestuous outro that dies a slow and somber death.
The conversational, rolling "Sun and Moon" sees Kasher sliding between his signature pitch shifts, deep howling giving way to high vibratos. Then it's back to The Ugly Organ hit "Driftwood: A Fairy Tale," followed up with vicious, hauntingly upbeat "We're All Going to Hell" from Mama, I'm Swollen. A break in song trails into a bizarre story from Kasher about a recent show in Covington, Kentucky, where, he says, the audience sat in lawn chairs, applied sunscreen to their noses and ate "greasy fried chicken the whole show," but then quickly adds, "Everything I tell you is a lie. I'm not even a man." Impromptu impressions of audience screams, squeals and salutations follow, as does a short monologue about why whiskey is great and that it's sad that Dick Clark is dead ("He was so much better at his job than I am at mine. He'd have better segues.")
During the crowd banter a woman (an Off Broadway employee? A ballsy fan?) approaches Kasher on stage with a shot of whiskey, which he takes half of to a current of boos from the crowd. "I'd like to finish the show," he says, before staring at the shot again and finishing it to a thunder of audience approval that dissolves into "Twin Dragon/Hello Skeleton" from I Am Gemini with Stevens playing trumpet. Then we volley back to Mama, I'm Swollen with "I Couldn't Love You" and then right back to the new record with raucous "Wowowow," when the frantic dancing crowd morphs into moshing mode, thumping with vim and vigor. Kasher is cradling the mic with almost fragility, clamoring and clattering out verse after verse that builds to a crescendo with the band's final song, the primal hit "From The Hips" off Mama, I'm Swollen. The song is well paced, controlled and almost slick, with Kasher brandishing his guitar overhead, jamming like a madman on upright guitar. The band exits the stage at 11:03 p.m. but returns a minute later for the encore, which begins with Happy Hollow favorite, "Dorothy At Forty," with Kasher fist-pumping the air, smiling at the crowd admiration and recognition. "Sink to the Beat" comes next, Kasher's arms now pin-wheeling as he's joined on stage by Conduits' bassist, who screams and sings along with Kasher to close to song, then jumps back into the crowd as hand-clapper "Art is Hard" charges ahead, with Kasher pacing the stage, looming behind the drum kit, then the music fades as he approaches the microphone to introduce a weird cover choice, "I have a story I want to tell about a pretty cool guy...he looks a lot like Guy Fieri, it's long and catchy and awesome..." He begins strumming Smash Mouth's ultra-recognizable "All Star" with more passion and valor than its originator Steve Harwell could ever muster.
The last song of the evening begins with Kasher squatting low on the stage, taking swigs out of a coffee thermos (Water? Whiskey? Um, Coffee?), then retreating to the back of the stage to jump atop an amp while thrusting into "Eulogy For No Name," the last track on the latest album. One more burst of raging noise sparks on stage and at 11:28 p.m. the lights come down.
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: Before tonight I've never seen Cursive live, but I was a fan years ago, when I listened to anything pressed by Saddle Creek Records. Random Detail: The crowd is younger than I imagined it would be and less filled with thirtysomething hipster dads. Overheard: Between Cymbals Eat Guitars and Cursive the three drunken women standing next to me in the second row jeer at the people in the front row. One exclaims, "I hate this band...fucking crybabies," making it unclear if she wants to be in the front row to jeer more or just because she's wasted and ambitious.
Setlist: This House Alive Big Bang A Gentleman Caller The Cat and Mouse Retreat! A Red So Deep The Sun and Moon Driftwood: A Fairy Tale We're Going To Hell Twin Dragon/Hello Skeleton I Couldn't Love You Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand Wowowow From the Hips
Encore: Dorothy at Forty Sink to the Beat Art is Hard All Star (Smash Mouth cover) Eulogy For No Name