by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
You have to hand it to Cursive. It’s one thing to play songs from your new album to an adoring sold-out crowd who want the hits. It’s another thing to end the show with one of the album’s more obscure tracks. But that’s exactly what Tim Kasher and Co. did Saturday night at The Slowdown.
The crowd began to arrive early for the opener, Virgin Islands, a band fronted by former Omahan now Seattle-ite Mike Jaworski (or just “Jaws” as he’s known by the inner circle). Like his other band, The Cops, Virgin Islands has a punk esthetic that recalls ’90s post-punkers like Bad Religion and Rocket from the Crypt. The style is straightforward, but unlike The Cops, there’s more variety between songs and more room for the rest of the band to stretch out, like on the set closer that turned into an extended punk jam centered around a blazing guitar. While the audience stood mesmerized, Jaws grabbed a tambourine and ran through the crowd.
Fellow tourmates Ume came next. A trio fronted by guitarist/vocalist Lauren Larsen, I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by the band’s take on metal — yes metal, or at least a milder form of metal. Larson knows her way around a fretboard, though her Nancy Wilson (Heart)-style coo seemed out of place among all the abrasion. I tried to imagine a classic metal vocalist singing the words and was transported to an arena circa 1982. Ume’s sound had just enough angular elements to complement the headliners, but as much fun as it was watching Larsen toss her gorgeous blond locks while committing first degree riffage, the music was (for the most part) unmemorable.
Cursive came on shortly before 11 to an adoring crowd packed into the bowl in front of the stage. All this talk about the band’s “older crowd” is nonsense. I was surrounded by people in their teens and early 20s, though there were also plenty of “old folks” there who were around when Domestica came out more than a decade ago. Kasher, sporting the beginnings of a wilderness beard, was in fine voice as he ran through a set list that wove songs from the new album with most of the bands “hits” including “Art is Hard” “Mothership Mothership, Do You Read Me?,” “Big Bang,” “Dorothy at 40,” and, of course, “The Martyr” (strangely “Sierra” was missing).
I was surprised at how seamlessly the new songs fit in with the old stuff, nothing seemed awkward or out of place, but at the same time, none of the new songs, including the first release, “Sun and Moon,” stood out. The new album is the most divisive of their catalog — you either like it or you hate it. It’s a classic “grower” of an album that will take time and multiple listenings before it catches on with the fanbase. Taken out of context as they were Saturday night, the songs were pretty good; they have much more depth when taken as a whole with the rest of the album, which is yet another reason Cursive should consider doing at least a few shows where they play the entire album in order, and in full costume (just kidding about the costumes part).
The band obviously has great faith in this new record, judging by their encore, which included the highlight of the evening — a stellar version of “From the Hips” from Mama, I’m Swollen, an album that flew under the radar but is bound to be remembered in years to come as one of Cursive’s all-time best. By the third verse of the song, the crowd erupted into a pseudo-mosh pit — the first time I’ve seen anything like that at a recent Cursive show. There were even a couple guys hoisted up in the air crowd-surfing style. But instead of riding out that energy to the end, the band closed the encore with “Eulogy for No Name,” the challenging closer on I Am Gemini. It couldn’t have been the end, especially when Ted Stevens played off Kasher with a sound collage of feedback and loops. But then, just like that, the lights came up, and the guy next to me said, “I guess that’s it.” No one expected them to end on that song, but glancing at their tour sets on setlist.fm, they’ve been ending with “Eulogy…” at all their shows. I guess it’s a classic case of leaving the audience wanting more.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.