Reviews

Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Roxana Hadadi
05/03/2009 | Blurt-online.com | www.blurt-online.com | Live Show Preview
Could there be a more absurd show line-up than a comic who tells inappropriate jokes about Beanie Babies and "tampads;" a Philadelphia experimental rock band that wears all white, decorates itself with war paint and uses keys and kazoos to make music; and an indie rock band from Omaha who lovingly embraces post-hardcore sounds and textures?

Yeah, not really.

At Washington's Black Cat on Sunday, May 3, headliner Cursive was joined by openers Andrew Wright and Man Man, creating a supremely mismatched trio that in turn made concert-goers uncomfortable, hyperactive and ecstatic. Since the sold-out crowd was very much divided into different cliques - from the face-painted teenagers nearly having an aneurysm when Man Man's five man-boy members took the stage to the calmer, more composed hipsters singing along to every word of Cursive's Tim Kasher's songs - the two groups definitely butt heads, but thankfully, the music didn't suffer. Man Man did their whole spastic-movements-random-instruments shtick fairly well (if you like that kind of thing), and Kasher and the rest of Cursive performed a wide array of older tracks and newer releases to keep both original fans and recent converts happy.

Things started off with Wright, who with his rat-tail haircut, boxes of Beanie Babies and paper alien face mask took the stage in a very bizarre way. With 20 minutes of "art jokes" (that are "just like regular jokes, but a lot less people think they're funny," according to Wright), the comic poked fun at interracial relationships, safe sex and American patriotism, among other things. From discussing his personal motto of "if it wiggles, put it in your mouth" to his tampad invention (which has both the "diaper-like comfort of the pad" and "sexual stimulation of the tampon") to stripping onstage to holding up a poster of a cheering football holding an AK-47 over its head on top of a pile of skulls, Wright did everything possible to make the parents in attendance overwhelmingly ill at ease. He did elicit a lot of laughs from other members of the crowd, but for nearly everyone else, it was a super random way to transition into a concert.

The night took a definite turn for the even-more-weird with Man Man, the Philly band whose members all go by pseudonyms (check it: Honus Honus, Pow Pow, Critter Crat, Sergei Sogay and Chang Wang), smash on their instruments like there's no end in sight and command audience members to get involved (yup, even our photographer was implored to shake some bells and got winked at by Pow Pow in thanks). While their fans were pretty much obnoxious (for example: a flailing drunk smashing on a spare drum, knocking over lead singer Honus Honus's bottle of water and being so overzealous that Pow Pow would urge Honus Honus to move the drum out of the guy's reach), the band's cacophony of sound worked well on tracks such as "Top Drawer." But while the use of random props such as gym whistles and Honus Honus's tendency to hang off ceiling pipes (after changing into a blue sequined tunic straight out of The Golden Girls, no less) all added to the band's clusterfuck of activity - and Man Man was at times infectious - the band's nearly hour-long set mostly blurred together. What should have been specific songs morphed into blocks of banshee-like screaming and incoherent noise, and it wasn't too enjoyable if you didn't happen to be inebriated.

But after Man Man's rambunctious (if largely unintelligible) set, it was Cursive's turn. While Kasher and his fellows were not nearly as ridiculous as Man Man (in fact, they were probably on the opposite end of the silly spectrum), they (unsurprisingly) proved to be the better band. Was the setlist a solid mix of classics and new works? Check. Were the songs performed tightly and nearly identical to what they sound like in recorded form? Double true. Is Kasher charming? Of course.

Cursive basically divided their set into two halves, with an immediate sing-along by audience members from the first song ("Butcher the Song" from The Ugly Organ) to the last ("The Martyr" from Domestica), and everything in between. From the pained, post-hardcore sounds of "Dorothy at Forty" and "I Couldn't Love You" to the anthemic, rousing "The Recluse" and "Rise Up! Rise Up!," Kasher (in pink Chucks and a dirty white T-shirt) commanded the audience, with every impassioned freak-out gripping his audience in the most symbolic of ways. Every arm sway, every blink, every hunching pose over his guitar - it was all passionately (if somewhat creepily) followed.

And during the set's last songs - including "The Game of Who Needs Who the Worst" and "Art is Hard" - Kasher was at his most prolific, holding the audience in the palm of his hand. They couldn't even be swayed by the seemingly inappropriate final song choice before the encore (the exceptionally depressing, reverb-heavy "What Have I Done?" from Cursive's latest, Mama, I'm Swollen), and they stuck around the four songs after that, with current single "From the Hips" getting just as much love as everything that came before it. And look, kids - Kasher and Co. didn't need face paint, coordinated outfits or Beanie Babies to do it.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

LP / CD / MP3