If it's possible that there's a good time to find out that the first person you said "I love you" to is marrying the girl he dumped you for, you could do worse than the middle of a Cursive show. I'm not saying this happened to me (Congratulations, Joey), but if it had, it would be strangely cathartic. And even more strangely, completely okay. It would be better, for instance, than making the same discovery at a Coldplay show. And because it's Cursive, because it's Saddle Creek, because Tim Kasher is right there with you, because he's shouting lyrics like "the worst is over," you believe him.
Because in the seventeen years that the guys have changed lineups, album concepts and states of sobriety, their weaknesses have always been their strengths. Unafraid to let their lyrics bleed for them, the Omaha quartet has long marketed its lovable and simultaneously forgivable niche of loyally Saddle Creek, occasionally emo pop rock. But time has weathered the sound and encouraged experimentation: Since Cursive entered the post-hardcore scene in the mid-'90s, the deeply dramatic, consistently tempestuous band has found footing in both self-doubt and self-awareness by frequently questioning both.
The band's latest effort, I Am Gemini, won't be released until February 21, but its obvious philosophical force showed itself at the Larimer Lounge, the first stop on the guys' newest tour. The Cursive that hit Denver last night was as warm and fuzzy as the band gets, all crowd compliments and earnest promises that the new material is "all fucking jams." While launching a frenzied trek through scene staples from 2003's The Ugly Organ and 2006's Happy Hollow, lead singer Tim Kasher lent his perpetually rusty growl to surprise 2009 fan hit Mama, I'm Swollen while carefully interspersing material from the group's upcoming concept album.
Three years after Cursive's latest album and only a year after Kasher's most recent solo release, I Am Gemini finds the band revisiting territories of doubt, piety and spirituality through the lore of the original Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux. (The surest sign of whether one of the songs played live is new is whether it includes the word "Gemini." The lyrics reference it roughly 1,800 times, Kasher joked.)
Its role as a concept record is only slightly more forceful than that of its predecessors: The guys have explored religion, pragmatism and the divide between the two for years while refusing to shove the results inside any specific genre category, and mostly succeeding in making that acceptable. If last night was a test of their new album's success, songs like "This House Alive" and "Eulogy for No Name" easily passed as live successes, thanks to Kasher's sharp, almost brutal songwriting and the band's aggressive instrumentation. Despite the guys never having played most of the songs in a concert setting before, the sound was frantic, the lyrics ambitious and the reaction devout. In short, it was a Cursive show.
On stage, Cursive is a systematically messy tour de force. Musically, the band could be described as the cliché emotional roller coaster, but only if that roller coaster just went up and down. Before you are tasked with collective elation, the band navigates the muddy waters of betrayal and heartbreak, inducing an enormous audience sing-a-long in which fans compete to out-emote each other in their interpretations of Kasher's words. Hands over hearts, fists over heads and fingers over lips made frequent appearances as tension levels rose, particularly during Happy Hollow hits "Dorothy at Forty" and "Big Bang."
"I don't know why we don't come here more often," Kasher chuckled to the crowd. The rock elder statesman looked genuinely bashful as he paid his audience the largest possible compliment. "You guys are awesome. You should go to Omaha and teach those guys how to rock!"
But by the time Cursive took the stage, the night's emotional landscape had already been tread once, if with more ferocity and less finesse. The Austin, Texas, hard-rock outfit UME, fronted by sonic ringleader Lauren Larson, threw the uncomfortably packed crowd into an early tizzy with the brazen release of serious shredding and tangled melodies. Touring off their 2011 full-length Phantoms, the band played its first set with Cursive last night and won large swaths of the audience over to its side before the headliners even stepped foot on the stage.
And as new fans rushed toward it, the easiest glimpse left was that of Larson's blond locks whipping back and forth over her guitar and the heads of her audience. Aside from reclaiming your hearing afterward, the only difficulty in an UME set is hearing over the new listeners around you shouting praise over their riffs. "This chick really rocks! I mean, really." But for more legitimate praise, look no further than Kasher's. "Those guys are fucking killer," he gushed.
At one point, when both he and his audience hit their peak enthusiasm level, Kasher remarked on the situation by shouting, "What a blast, motherfuckers!" And it was. Carefully orchestrated and skillfully plotted, the set list traveled through all corners of the band's back catalogue before closing with the resuscitating call to action of "Dorothy at Forty": "Dorothy, wake up! Dorothy, wake up!" Had the crowd been anything less than 100 percent invested, this request might have worked on it as well, but instead, it served only to amp up the night's fervor.
The only moment of absolute politeness, a strange contrast between the rowdy rockers and their concert etiquette, came with the encore. "We'll be right back," Kasher promised. "We're just going to go backstage and take a quick shot." At this, the crowd remained patient during its brief wait. After all, they deserved it.
Personal Bias: A few years ago, I spent a brief stint occasionally dogsitting bassist Matt Maginn's two (adorable) mutts. I've seen Cursive eleven times.
By the Way: The taller of the two, named Alyosha after the coolest member of Dostoyevsky's Karamazov family, was a gift from Conor Oberst.
Random Detail: Guitarist Ted Stevens apparently could not sleep last night because he was so excited about the show.
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Cursive Larimer Lounge - 2/13/10 Denver, CO
1. "This House Alive" 2. "Big Bang" 3. "A Gentleman Caller" 4. "The Sun and Moon" 5. "I Couldn't Love You" 6. "Retreat!!" 7. "The Martyr" 8. "Gemini" 9. "The Ugly Organist" 10. "The Cat and Mouse" 11. "We're Going to Hell" 12. "The Recluse" 13. "Wowowow" 14. "Dorothy At Forty"
Encore: 15. "Art Is Hard" 16. "From the Hips" 17. "Mothership, Mothership, Do You Read Me" 18. "Sierra" 19. "Eulogy For No Name"