Tim Kasher @ Schubas
When: March 23rd, 2013
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Chess Hubbard
I want to apologize for the length of this review in advance. The first half is exposition, so don't mind skipping through to the fifth paragraph for the actual review section.
Call it a coincidence or maybe fate, but the night before I went to see Tim Kasher play at Schubas, Neil (UR's music editor) and I had a long conversation about music and bands. During this discussion, we talked about bands that were hugely important in our lives, not necessarily because they ended up being staples in our iTunes library or favorites whose careers we would follow no matter where they led, but because that one song or that one album they made came out at a time in our lives when we needed it to. The Good Life's Album of the Year was one of those albums for me.
It was early 2004 and I had just had my heart broken, REALLY broken. Now, it wasn't so terrible because it was the first serious relationship I experienced, and it wasn't because I hadn't been in love before, but it was a relationship that I had thought, at the time, was THE relationship I had been waiting for my whole life. My heart LITERALLY hurt and I spent days in bed thinking that the world was going to end. It didn't, and, thankfully, I eventually got through the harrowingly nightmarish journey.
The soundtrack to that seemingly neverending trek into my own personal Mordor of heartbreak was Album of the Year. Now, I am going to stop and disclose that Björk's Homogenic will ALWAYS be my go-to album for break-ups in general, but during this specific bracket of time, my pain was eased by Mr. Kasher as well. I think I listened to "Needy," "You're Not You," and "A New Friend" on repeat for weeks if not months.
Surprisingly, I wasn't a fan of Cursive at the time. I was a big fan of Saddle Creek Records though, and I was sent an advance copy of The Good Life's sophomore album. Unlike The Faint, which I loved the instant I heard "Worked Up So Sexual," or Bright Eyes, who I couldn't stand at first but had been brainwashed into liking (and later LOVING) by a roommate, I think the main reason I fell for The Good Life was because I NEEDED that album right at that exact time in my life — and that isn't to downplay how amazing that album was (and still is) outside the insanely emo phase I was in.
Anyway, moving right along... We had interviewed Tim Kasher for the site a few weeks ago (read it here!) and the day of the show his publicist asked if I wanted to be listed. I was thinking about going to KMFDM at House of Blues that same night with Neil since his guest had yet to confirm, but, as fate would have it, a couple hours before the show his guest did come through. So, as much as I was bummed about missing KMFDM (and lord knows they shaped a completely different part of my life even further back than 2004), I am so glad the stars aligned and led me to Schubas instead.
I got to the sold out show right as Tim went on. I had dragged my friend along, who had no idea who Tim Kasher was (or any of his bands for that matter), and was hoping, more for her than myself, that the show would be good, if not great. Introducing a friend to new music is always a gamble. As I mentioned earlier, the first time my roomie played Bright Eyes (Fevers and Mirrors) for me I seriously wanted to stab my ears out from his whiny, quavery voice — the adjustment period to tolerate and eventually like it would take MONTHS. Fortunately, Kasher's voice is not nearly as polarizing as Oberst's and my friend needed little adjusting at all. She explained later that she not only liked his voice, which she described as, "not exactly pretty, but full of heart and a genuine honesty," but she was also drawn to his presence and sense of humour.
Kasher, unlike labelmate and BFF Oberst, does not look the angst-ridden, tortured artist onstage. He might be singing about really sad, heartbreaking subject matter and his lyrics are chock-full of cynical bitterness at times, but in between tunes he is having fun, smiling, and legitimately enjoying himself. Whether he has always been this way, or he has become more laid back as his career has progressed over the past TWENTY years, I can't say. I saw Cursive once before, but honestly, I can't remember anything (thank you alcohol) other than they didn't disappoint me. Tonight he did not disappoint either; in fact, he surpassed my expectations, which were very high.
Not only did his voice sound pretty much identical (or even better) to how it does recorded, he actually held my interest (and most of the crowd's) with his brand new/unreleased songs as well. I can't say the same thing for 85% of the artists I have seen over the years, who are generally only able to keep their audiences happy by playing older/more familiar material. (Also, let's be honest, when an artist has been around as long as this guy has, the probability of their new stuff sucking is VERY high.) His fourth song (a new one), which described nightmares about murder in suburbia and ghouls in the mirror, was an instant favorite. Hell, I was stone cold sober for the show, so there was no drunken buzz blurring my ability to listen critically or causing me to automatically swoon at each chord and heartfelt lyric.
About half way through his set, I realized that the order in which he played his songs was probably as important as the selection of songs themselves. Kasher described the set list as "schizophrenic" and he indeed bounced back and forth between slow ballads and upbeat jams from his various projects and albums, but it all bizarrely flowed together and somehow didn't seem that disjointed. It also helped that he talked and interacted with the crowd just the right amount. Too often an artist will use the time between songs to practice their budding stand-up routine, make excuses for faulty gear, bicker at their bandmates etc., or, and this might be worse, completely ignore the audience altogether and hurry through each break to get through their set as quickly as possible. Tim was gracious and even funny between songs. He seemed truly thrilled that people were receptive to his new songs and even made some clever remarks about "The Bible" TV show in addition to exciting many a fan when he revealed that he now lived in Chicago.
I didn't know most of the songs he played by name, and I admit I am not his biggest fan by a long shot, but that didn't matter. He captured me that night. He captured the woman that only REALLY listened to him as a girl so many years ago and here she was, transfixed by his tunes both old and new. What I continue to love and am impressed by are his lyrics. The music is pretty simple and almost secondary to me, whether with just his guitar or a band behind him. The lyrics don't explore anything new or groundbreaking either, but the balance of sadness, truth, and humour in them makes for an intoxicating mixture very few songwriters can achieve.
I continued to think about the set throughout the rest of the night and reminisce on my life nine years ago and how lucky I was back then, and now, to experience the songs of Tim Kasher. Even though I might be older and wiser when it comes to heartache these days, listening to Album of the Year as I write this review still sends little shivers down my spine. Music is definitely a drug, and when it is delivered with such seemingly effortless confidence as Tim Kasher is able to do, it can give you an unforgettable high and even take you back in time. Thank you, Tim, for being such a great drug/time machine for me last Saturday night. I will definitely be coming to see you again, under whatever moniker and with whatever band.
LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3