The National interviewed; Live Review: Cursive; Rilo Kiley tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 5:40 pm September 13, 2007

First, here’s this week’s feature story on The National (read it here). The story’s hook is my having just discovered this band though they actually broke through years ago with their previous album. Go, read, then go to and buy your tickets to their show next Wednesday at Slowdown, which also features the amazing St. Vincent.

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Quite a packed house last night at Slowdown for Cursive. I didn’t arrive until just before they went on stage. The floor was filled, as were the sides all the way back to the bar, a big house indeed for the band’s debut on the Slowdown stage. In response, Cursive ran through a solid albeit rather brief set that drew heavily from Happy Hollow, but also included a song or two from Ugly Organ, Domestica, the Burst and Bloom EP (that wonky “Mothership” song), etc. The horn section that’s been in tow throughout the past year has been whittled down to just one lonely guy who switches between tenor and bari sax and also plays keyboards. As you can imagine, the loss of horn power had an obvious impact on over-the-top numbers like “Big Bang,” which rely on brassy explosions to push them along. Most of the time, the sax guy backed-in songs with jazzy fills. The keyboards were a nice, subtle touch, and provided background music for the two times Tim Kasher addressed the audience in a sort of free-verse beat poet fashion. Kasher’s where’s-he-going-with-this stage rants have been known to go on and on (and on), and are one of the things I enjoy most about his live performances. He kept them to a minimum last night, however.

One of the fine folks at One Percent invited me up to the “VIP area” for the performance — essentially, it’s the gated-off catwalk that connects the balcony to the back stage area. From there, it’s quite a view (though the sound sucks), looking down at a crowd of mostly college-age (and younger) kids pushed up against the stage, all trying to sing along with the hits. Toward the end of the set, there was even a pseudo-mosh pit going on, which came down to one brutish dude in a black ball cap violently shoving people in all directions. He quickly became neutralized when someone knocked his ball cap off, revealing his old-guy bald spot. He spent the next few minutes looking for the ball cap on the floor, found it, then proceeded to shove people around again… until someone swiped his cap altogether, forcing him to retreat from the floor. Look, I like watching a good moshing as much as the next guy, but, really, Cursive doesn’t play straight-four hardcore. Their music is more suited for screaming and crying, not fighting.

Maybe it was the separation from the masses up on that catwalk, but last night’s set felt rushed and slightly uneven. Some songs, like “The Martyr” and “Dorothy at Forty” and the epic encore closer had all the power you’d expect from any Cursive show. At other times, however, it felt like the band was mailing it in, going through the motions, unlike the Cursive gig a couple months ago at The Waiting Room which was heated and reckless and a lot more fun. There is no question that Slowdown has the finest sound system and stage of any club in Omaha, however I’m beginning to wonder if the set-up isolates the bands too much from the audience, similar to Sokol Auditorium’s stage. Or maybe I’m just getting spoiled after seeing Cursive at places like O’Leaver’s and Sokol Underground and TWR, where they seem to be standing right in the crowd…

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Tonight is Rilo Kiley at Sokol Auditorium. I intended to write a feature on the band — I’ve been doing interviews with them since they joined Saddle Creek in ’02. But I guess an interview wasn’t in the cards. I’ve been going back and forth with their publicist since the end of August with no luck. Part of the problem is that I can’t do interviews during business hours (only after 6 p.m. and on weekends — I have a “real job,” remember?). Another problem is the band’s hectic schedule. I’m actually glad we didn’t get anything lined up because I still haven’t received a copy of Under the Blacklight, their new CD, which the publicist promised to send me in August. Just an oversight? Probably, but after reading coverage like this in Now Toronto (here). I get the feeling the band could be a bit skittish about having to answer questions about “selling out” and bringing in hit-maker producers like Mike Elizondo to sweeten their sound.

There’s nothing wrong with dragging yourself out of the indie ghetto as long as you maintain your vision (For an example of how NOT to do this, see the last two Liz Phair albums). It’s very possible that Lewis and Sennett are taking a route familiar with the best actors in Hollywood — do the goofy, shitty, commercial projects to rake in the big bucks, then spend the off time working on your “real projects” — the quality indie films, the a-list-director epics. Lewis has her solo work (which, in my opinion, is better than anything she’s done with RK) to give her credibility; while Sennett has The Elected. Why not make Rilo Kiley a fun, money-making endeavor and say ‘f*** you’ to the critics? I guess it all depends on if Blacklight is a piece of shit or not. I’ll reserve judgment until I hear it (if I ever do). I have a feeling that I’ll get a good idea of where they’re headed when I go to the show tonight. According to the publicist, the set times are: Doors at 7; Grand Ole Party @8; Johnathan Rice @ 8:45; and Rilo @ 10. One Percent lists Art in Manila on the bill as well, so it may go later than that. Tickets are still available for $17.

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