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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cursive at Off Broadway, April 20: Review and Setlist

Posted By on Sat, Apr 21, 2012 at 12:19 PM

  • Liz Miller

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.

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