Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Kristin Ross
08/12/2009 | | | Live Show Preview
love the Grog Shop in Cleveland. Not only does it hold a lot of great show memories for me, but it looks just as a venue should: like someone's basement, with red curtains hung in a cursory way to designate the stage. If you happen to look above when you're up front, the ceiling will horrify you. The bar runs almost the entire length of the back wall, situated next to a stunning black and white mural. For some reason, everything sounds massive. It was a perfect place to experience Cursive, who played on July 29th, a Wednesday that felt more like a Friday.

As opening bands go, it was a relatively painless night. Other Girls, a solid local group, started off the night with some charming power pop. The second band, called the Love Language, is opening for Cursive on most of this current tour. They're a seven piece outfit that could barely fit on stage, but that only added to the sense of camaraderie among them. They were a pleasure to watch, musically tight and relentlessly adorable. They turned out to be one of those rare opening bands that I'll search out after the show.

Cursive waited just a touch too long to play, allowing a portion of the audience to get far drunker than they should have been on a weeknight. Tim Kasher and his cohorts look like guys your dad might have over for a barbeque, but don't let that fool you. They will tear your faces right off with rock and roll. The cacophony this band created at the Grog actually made my skin vibrate, from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. The set was an excellent sampling of their music, focusing on songs from the new album Mama, I'm Swollen. They played a glut of tunes from The Ugly Organ and favorites from Domestica and went so far as to throw in "The Great Decay" from 2001's Burst and Bloom.

Tim Kasher's stage presence is commanding: he points emphatically, preacher-like, and forces you to listen to the words. There's a taut energy around him as he twists and squints his pain. Most of his lyrics are self-reflective (with the possible exception of the songs on Happy Hollow) and the words ricochet back onto his expressive face, making the performance a bizarre loop of emotional catch and release. It obviously worked for the audience; their devotion was a fervent sing-along throughout the show. The whole band plays like exorcists, though the drummer doesn't seem to break a sweat.

There was little banter as they scorched through, the seamless transitions allowed the music to become something of a master mix of their discography. Occasionally, the songs were allowed to wander off in new directions, but never far enough to collapse into a jammy mess. Though they're able to get more complicated on their recordings, they pull off little flourishes live that capture that spirit.

The band left the stage before the encore with a wall of noise, Kasher's guitar screeching feedback on top of an amp, along with a track of dissonance mashed from the albums, so thick that I can't be sure exactly what it was. We didn't have to listen to that very long, but in the interim a fight broke out in what I suppose I could loosely call "the pit." it was a brief burst, a few fists, and the Grog Shop bouncers were right on top of it. It seemed indicative, however, of the current I felt running under the evening: a strange yearning for that little release of violence.

Earlier, I noticed two boys in front of me with radically different t-shirts. One wore an encompassing, earthy Whitman quote (I contain multitudes) and another wore a simple, hostile statement (I am your enemy). That's the fine line Tim Kasher walks. There is something raw and aggressive about him, tempered with cleverness and nuance. The audience reacted to that, mixed it with alcohol, and the result was a crowd moshing to a song about the faults of intelligent design. Kasher pointed it out in one of his few remarks from the stage: Where are the five guys who got too drunk? He went so far as to slow down "The Recluse," possibly to quell the sudden flash of misplaced rage.

The encore included a cover of Bowie's "Modern Love" that was totally appropriate for Cursive and sounded fantastic, true to the original and yet unique to them. It helped end the show on an upnote and provided a treat for those familiar with the song. The small bout of fisticuffs didn't seem to hamper anyone's good time and the encore passed without incident. All in all, Cursive puts on a show that should please any fan.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

LP / CD / MP3