Was the three-day Eastern Nebraska Tour a sell-out like it said on the T-shirts (with a question-mark added)? They didn’t sell out in Lincoln and last night’s show, while close, probably didn’t (but I don’t have the numbers either way, at least the SCB show sold out). That said, it was still a remarkable set from a band that has taken their live show from being something of a snooze to a real killer.
The Good Life unveiled seven new songs (at least) that take their sound to a different place than the circus-barker off-Broadway theatrics of Album of the Year (which is the best soundtrack to a musical that was never staged). In interviews with me and Niz at the OWH, the band talked of stripping it all down for the next album. After what I heard last night, that seemed to mean building songs around Steph Drootin’s simple, melodic bass lines. Throughout the evening she was the center of my attention, the backbone to every new song. Drootin led the charge with one arm figuratively around Roger Lewis’ crisp, kicky drums. Ryan Fox added tasty chits of guitar while Kasher did his usual soulful emoting (in terrific voice) — this time, with less frown and more wide-eyed wonder.
The up songs were downright poppy (and brief, around three minutes, no more), while the slow numbers were bluesy and laid-back, slouching forward on Drootin’s bass, which leaned with the posture of a low-down reggae band. Clearly the band has decided to edit everything down to the bare essentials. The effect is the most straight-forward, cohesive music that Kasher has created with either band (the other being Cursive). Gone is the over-the-top shimmering drama that characterized (and sometimes cluttered) the songs (especially on the pre-AOTY/Lawyers material). Lyrically, Kasher’s narratives nonchalantly get to the point, with no filler and plenty of clever double entendres to keep you smiling at just how clever he can be, telling stories of love debauched with regret (usually).
The contrast between old and new was startling and, for me, downright abrasive. Or maybe it was just the preponderance of more bombastic, dramatic selections from the back catalog that filled out the night’s set list.
I don’t think I was the only one who recognized how the two styles didn’t quite mesh. After playing two new songs, Kasher started an older one only to stop dead in his tracks after the first phrase. He wanted to take a moment to thank the crowd, saying (I’m paraphrasing here, I didn’t take notes) “I don’t really like performing, I like writing songs. So I’m still getting used to doing this. Sometimes after shows, someone asks if I liked the set and I usually say that I wasn’t really feeling it. But tonight I’m really enjoying myself.” It was a charming — if odd — moment that felt prompted by the sheer awkwardness of the gear-grinding shift between new and old, casual and dramatic.
With the new music, Kasher no longer oversells his angst. It’s as if he doesn’t care if you get it or not, he’s just gonna lay it out there for you to fill in the blanks. There is no effort to make you feel sorry for him because he no longer feels sorry for himself. This matter-of-fact style is more simple, more pure, more honest – and to me, more tuneful. This seems to be where Kasher wants to go from now on. After playing the first “oldie” last night, he responded to the crowd by saying “I’m glad that you applauded less for that one than the new ones.” The crowd laughed, but after a few moments, Kasher added, “I’m serious.” I think he was.
If I don’t see you tomorrow, Happy Holidays from everyone at Lazy-i.
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