by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
The line to get into The Waiting Room last night stretched down the sidewalk at 9 p.m. I could hear David Bazan doing his usual sad-dog electric solo set while I waited. The lady behind me said she was worried the show would sell out, and phoned a friend further up in line to buy her ticket. She was right to be concerned. The place was packed, especially compared to last week’s show.
I’ll get to the openers in a minute. First, Cursive.
The set-up was the same as last Thursday, but the actual set was altogether different. Not entirely in song choices — there were a couple repeats, including “The Martyr” and “Sierra” (I suppose they have to play those at every show) — but in the performance. Cursive brought the heavy shit last night. The band was tuned to metal, even Kasher’s guitar was extra-gritty.
While last week’s set list was a mish-mash with a heavy dose of their more-popular tunes, last night was a deep dive into obscurata, light on melody, heavy on thunder. Or maybe it just seemed that way. Again, I didn’t recognize about a third of the songs. Among the rarities was “Sucker and Dry” off their second single (rereleased on The Difference Between Houses and Homes), “Retirement” from their first album Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes, and something off second album The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song. Kasher ended each chestnut with a wry laugh as if saying, “Remember that one? Of course you don’t.”
The band played two sets. Set One highlights included “The Night I Lost the Will to Fight,” “Rise Up! Rise Up!” and “Sierra,” along with a song or two off I Am Gemini. Then they left the stage and comedian Ian Douglas Terry, maybe the bravest man in the word, came out and did 10 minutes as people screamed at him from the floor. As Dan Rather used to say: Courage.
By the time Cursive returned, the crowd had thinned slightly. They dove back in with “Sink to Swim,” “The Worst Is Over,” “Let Me Up,” “Holiday,” and a song or two off I Am Gemini, before closing with a rearranged, gospel-tinged version of “What Have I Done?” which cements Mama, I’m Swollen as my favorite Cursive record.
It was during the second set that they rolled out “The Martyr” again. I can’t put a finger on it, but this week’s version was looser, groovier, more brazen that last week’s, and was indicative of the entire set. While there was more head-scratchers on the set list this week, the overall performance was louder, meatier, more primal — i.e., it was pretty fantastic, maybe the best Cursive show I’ve seen since that secret “sneak” show at O’Leaver’s seven or eight years ago when they rolled out Happy Hollow songs for the first time.
As everyone knows, last night was one of three shows at The Waiting Room being recorded for a (proposed) live album. I think they pretty much got what they needed. God only knows what we’re in for next week. The conventional wisdom is that now that they have the necessary tracks in the can, next Thursday’s show will be a fuck-it free-for-all where anything goes. It could be a marvel or a bloody mess, and either will make for grand theater.
Speaking of grand theater, the near sold-out crowd was just as enthusiast about Criteria as they were the headliner.
Criteria at The Waiting Room, Dec. 12, 2013.
When I was a kid I used to read Hulk comics (who am I kidding, I still read Hulk comics). The best part about ol’ greenskin is that no matter how much they throw at him, he just gets stronger. The same thing can be said about Criteria frontman Stephen Pedersen.
When the band came out and played their first song, I texted a buddy hidden somewhere in the crowd: “Steve’s losing his voice. Those high notes, just a tad out of reach.” I don’t remember what song it was, one of those early Criteria classics.
But it didn’t take long for Pedersen to get in range. Maybe he needs to warm up more before the show? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t know how he’s even able to sing those songs, each one is a circus-act tight-rope walk of searing high notes akin to an indie-rock yodel thrust loudly into the crowd via that thick, bulging vein in his neck. Pedersen is a marvel of art and science. As is his band, whose rhythm section sits proudly alongside Cursive’s as among the finest in the land.
By the end of the set Pedersen was unstoppable. I expected his voice to be a worn-down burned-out nub, but it only got stronger. Don’t get him angry, you won’t like him when he’s angry…
The big news was the slew of new Criteria material — all solid. Though not a new direction by any means, each song held its own (and then some) alongside the band’s stellar back catalog. Pedersen’s announcement that the band is recording a new album in January was met with whoops of approval from the crowd. Is this the beginning of a second act by a band that’s sorely missed?
As for Bazan — good ol’ Bazan — his solo set was well received, though there was a lot of chatter in the back of the room. I’d be surprised if many of the youngsters in the crowd even heard of Pedro the Lion. As per usual, he paused a couple times between songs and asked if there were any questions. Someone asked him to play an older tune, and his response was something like, “Sorry man, I’m no longer the guy who wrote and played that song.” So it goes.
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All right, it’s Friday. The weekend’s looking… interesting.
Tonight at fabulous O’Leaver’s noise-rock band Pro-Magnum headlines what they’re calling “Metal \m/ Night” featuring Old Bones (self-described hardcore band featuring ex members of Split Second, 8th Wave and Ryan McLaughlin (Rymo) of Race for Titles), Relentless Approach, and Borealis (self-described death metal). Sounds loud, doesn’t it? $5, 9:30 p.m.
Also tonight, it’s Snake Island, Worried Mothers and the incomparable Dereck Higgins at Venue 51, 1951 St. Mary’s Ave. They’re calling this show “Acid Test” and describing it as “a night of interactive light and group levitation. Projections, Psychedelia, and euphoria…” $5, 9 p.m. Fitting that it’s Friday the 13th?
Tomorrow night back at O’Leaver’s it’s The Doneofits (Michael Trenhaile), Under Water Dream Machine and The Love Technicians. $5, 9:30 p.m.
Meanwhile Saturday evening down at Slowdown it’s Omahype’s annual Holiday Rock and Shop featuring local designers and crafts-makers, as well as bands: All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, John Klemmensen & The Party, Manic Pixie Dream Girls, cellist April Faith-Slaker and Seer States. Between bands buy a hip-ass bag by Artifact, a foxy dress by Hello Holiday or a kick-ass poster by Doe-Eyed Design, among others. The fun starts at 6 and entry is $5. More info here.
Sunday there’s a “Whiskey Tasting” being held at O’Leaver’s at 4 p.m. That just seems like a bad idea to me…
Have a good weekend.
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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 © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.