Live Review: Cursive last night at O’Leaver’s (Shhhhh); This week’s Feature: Mi and L’au; Poor Sly

Category: Blog — @ 1:25 pm February 9, 2006

“We’re going to play 14 songs from our new album.”

And so began last night’s “secret show” at O’Leaver’s featuring Cursive. How secret was it? I was told by a Saddle Creek Records executive that he didn’t even know about it until a few hours before it went down. I found out via an e-mail yesterday morning from Sean, the guy who runs the venue, and was told “It’s a secret. Nothing, zero, zip.” The gig was originally supposed to happen Thursday night. Then later that afternoon I got another e-mail saying it was happening last night instead.

Obviously the word got out, because it was jammed in O’Leaver’s (though to my knowledge, there was never a line to get into this free show). All the usual suspects were there — most of the Creek staff and tons of local band people — past and present. Everyone seemed to know it was a special occasion — will there ever be another free Cursive show at a venue with a capacity of around 100? Unlikely (but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened again before their next tour).

The set got rolling at around 10:30 and lasted for about an hour. I don’t know if they played 14 songs or not, but everything was brand new… and different.

About three songs before the end, the Creek executive asked what I thought. “It swings,” I said. He laughed, but I wasn’t kidding. Cursive’s new music has a swagger to it not heard on their previous material. By contrast to the usual straightforward, arch, “angular” sound, the new material has an undeniable bounce, a swing, almost as if the band has been listening to a lot of jazz lately. Some songs were distinctly proggy, with breaks and syncopation and the usual breakneck time-changes. But all of it had a big-shouldered strut that felt more relaxed and, quite frankly, funner than the usual furloughed-brow Cursive stuff.

Perhaps he’s always done this, but Ted Stevens handled more lead vocals than I’ve ever noticed before, and I liked it. Kasher, unfortunately, was strapped with a microphone that sounded like a toy, as if he was singing through one of those steel mikes they used to use at the Burger King front counter (Whopper. No Mayo). Don’t ask me what he and Stevens were singing, you couldn’t make out the lyrics in the din. Regardless, the music was profound, an obvious step in a new direction that looks back to an earlier (’80s?) version of punk. Two or three songs sported huge breaks where Kasher whispered into the mike before the band exploded with the usual response. The last song was fueled by a pounding a riff shared by both guitars and bass. Big and brash.

Was last night’s gig an indication of what we’ll get on the next Cursive album? I hope so, but there’s no telling what we’ll hear when the CD rolls out later this year. I remember hearing an early version of The Good Life’s Blackout CD lent to me by a band member. When the record came out six months later, it was completely different. No doubt the same rules apply when it comes to arranging and mixing this CD, which will clearly be the centerpiece of Saddle Creek’s 2006 releases.

* * *

Which brings us to this week’s feature on Mi and L’au (read it here). The quaint European couple roll into O’Leaver’s this Friday night for a quiet acoustic set. I asked Laurent (he’s the L’au half) what he thought of the sometimes-noisy American audiences. “It’s a part of the game,” he said. “You just change when it happens. You have to grab the mood and make them listen. I don’t mind people talking as long as they’re listening. If they come and just talk, I don’t understand why they came. We play a lot of finger-picking and faster songs, so it’s not just quiet (songs). If the patrons complain about us, they would have to complain about folk singers in general.”

I struggle with accents, by the way. Whenever I travel to Europe, my girlfriend has to translate — even for people who speak English. It’s a lot of me going “Huh? I”m sorry?” And her going (in a loud, slow, deliberate voice): “HE’S ASKING YOU IF YOU WANT SOUP OR SALAD.” It happens in London as much as Paris. Anyway, the point is that it was a tough interview, and I’m sure I missed about half of it because I couldn’t make out what he was saying over his cell phone. To illustrate this, here’s more of Laurent’s replay taken directly from my notes: “It’s like usual life. Happens that day and good day. Play many gigs with silent people and people listening to us and even offer us bed and house to stay. My feeling is the kindness and hospitality of people.” See.

* * *

Oh yeah, and the Grammy’s were on last night. Well, if you were following along, you know that my picks (posted yesterday) went awry thanks to U2 (I did manage to get Clarkson and The White Stripes). It would have been more embarrassing had I gotten more of my picks right. The saddest part of the show beyond the overall lack of talent (as I said throughout the evening — If you spend enough money you can even make a turd shine, at least to the eyes and ears of the academy) was poor Sly Stone. If you haven’t seen it you probably already read about what happened. A bent-over Sly, looking regal in a huge white mohawk, stumbled on stage rather disoriented or maybe disinterested, joining the bands during the tribute number. With one hand wrapped up like a cast, he pounded on a huge Korg keyboard and tried singing along a couple times before waving to the crowd and leaving the stage well before the song was over. Steven Tyler almost looked concerned.

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