Reviews

Help Wanted Nights

Author: Lance Conzett
10/10/2007 | Belmont Vision | www.belmontvision.com | Live Show Preview
If I didn't know any better, I would have written The Good Life off as Cursive Lite before I had heard a single note. Tim Kasher founded the band in 2000 as a solo-project for songs that didn't stylistically fit into Cursive's emo-rock dirges. Although there is an element of the Cursive style of songs about heartbreak and dysfunction, seeing The Good Life play at Exit/In on October 9th proved that they're far more than "what the Cursive guy does in his free time."

Unfortunately, the same praise can't be extended to Zookeeper, the first opening act of the show. Zookeeper is the brainchild of Chris Simpson, a fairly prominent figure from the mid-90s Midwest emo scene. Simpson sang and played in bands like Mineral and The Gloria Record, both impressive groups in their own rights, so I expected far much more from him than he gave us. Zookeeper is Simpson's country project, but it doesn't feel like he knows what he wants to do with the songs. It's almost like he read the Wikipedia page for "country music" and put together a collection of country music clichés to make a reasonable facsimile of a country band. From his forced, afflicted country drawl that he trots out on his more acoustic songs to the unbearably overdone phrases in his songs (He lost me immediately when he used the words "burgundy hills" in the first song), Simpson needs to go back to the drawing board on Zookeeper. The music itself was average, mainly because Zookeeper felt more like a random collection of musicians than a single united band. Three guitar players for something as simple as country will do that. I'm willing to give Simpson another shot if he does some serious renovation on the band, but as of now his music simply isn't doing it for me. And considering that nobody was willing to get within 10 feet of the stage, the music wasn't doing much for anyone else either.

I feared that the weak opener spelled doom for the rest of the show, but luckily the attitude did a complete 180 as soon as Georgie James started playing. Much like Zookeeper, Georgie James formed out of the ashes of several other bands, particularly Q and Not U, The Explosion and Kid Dynamite. Which is all very strange because the later two bands are pretty punk rock and Georgie James is more like retro pop/rock. The band saved the night in a number of ways. most notably, the fact that Nashville was the first date of their stint on the tour and half the band's history in punk translated to tons of on-stage energy. Considering that the majority of the crowd probably hasn't heard the band before since they released their debut album a couple weeks ago, the fact that they had entire clusters of the crowd dancing and enjoying themselves is a testament to how good they actually are. I've seen many shows where the first act puts the crowd into such a bad mood that the night can't be saved until the headliner plays. Georgie James is certainly a band to keep an eye on in the future.

When the Good Life came on stage and played a few songs, the first thing that struck me is the unshakable feeling that this band could top Bright Eyes as one of the most emotionally evocative bands on Saddle Creek. Whereas Bright Eyes has lost its way down the road of Conor Obert's experiments (Digital Ash) and ham-fisted political commentary (When the President Talks to God), The Good Life retains the raw edge of intimacy that made Saddle Creek famous in the first place. While the band's new record isn't quite Fevers & Mirrors, The Good Life puts forward an admirable effort. I would go as far as to say, however, that the band topped the last Bright Eyes performance I saw at the Ryman.

The Good Life played about 15 songs with most of them being short and sweet. But Kasher can say a great deal in a 3 minute song. He understands how to make minimalism work and knows that if the music doesn't support the lyrics and vice versa, then what he's trying to do will collapse. And unlike the first band, the rest of the band members are completely together. The only time that I felt like a song might not be working in the live context were the longer story songs, which incidentally closed the show and the encore. But, even the first long song held one of the most electrifying moments of the entire show.

The band played "Inmates," a 9 minute song about a failing relationship sung from both sides. As the song built towards a climax, the other band members slowly dropped away, leaving Tim as the only one remaining (aside from Roger who ducked behind his drum set). As he played, there were occasional lulls where the entire venue was eerily silent. Being able to silence an entire club of people in borderline impossible, especially without some idiot breaking the silence by yelling something stupid. On a live bootleg I have of a Ben Gibbard show, some guy screamed "Fuck Yeah!" in a lull during "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" and absolutely destroyed the mood. It was so jarring that Gibbard stopped playing to ask the guy, "Really?" It's little moments like that which make a Good Life show so incredible.

The other thing that struck me during their set was how genuinely funny Tim Kasher is. He didn't talk a lot, except during one break in the set when the rest of the band was tuning. He started thanking the bands who played before them and then asked the audience if there's anything they wanted to say or anyone they wanted to thank. When he didn't hear anything, he asked, "Krispy Kreme is open 24 hours, right?" And started talking about how we should all thank Krispy Kreme for allowing us the ability to get a donut at 3 in the morning. "There's people to thank is what I'm saying," he said, before going into a whole separate story about thanking the pigs who were part of the pork sandwiches they've eaten while on the road, even though many of those sandwiches were poorly prepared. He hoped, out loud, that the pigs didn't die in vain and reminded them that it's not their fault that the sandwiches were bad, but rather the fault of "Renee's Hot Stuff Deli."

One must wonder why The Good Life hasn't been able to move out from under the shadow of "big brother" Cursive. The band is usually dismissed as a side-project and thus not as important as the original band it spawned from, but the music being played doesn't deserve that treatment. Both the band's live shows and their records are highly recommended.

The Good Life Setlist

01. Your Share of Men
02. Lovers Need Lawyers
03. Entertainer
04. Playing Dumb
05. On the Picket Fence
06. Black Out
07. New Friend
08. Some Tragedy
09. Notes in His Pockets
10. Some Bullshit Escape
11. A Little Bit More
12. Inmates
ENCORE
13. Heartbroke
14. O'Rourke's, 1:20 A.M.
15. Album of the Year
Help Wanted Nights

Help Wanted Nights

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Help Wanted Nights

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