I arrived late to Saddle Creek's 2005 CMJ showcase, but just in time to catch the majority of Son, Ambulance's set. The band's lazy indie pop does very little for me on record, but with a ridiculously inebriated front-man in lead singer/guitarist and band mainstay Joe Knapp, I was entertained easily (at least, between songs). Some weren't too bad, notably the song that Knapp promised "would take [us] to a paradise island...where you're like 8...and don't have to worry about...bad shit...or something..." Other choice lines from Knapp included "I don't care what you think about me" and "I know this isn't very...'professional,'" while it was clear he had lost much of his ability to coherently play his guitar, even to the point where he tried to hand it to anyone in the audience willing to play. So, average tunes, above-average banter.
Alabama-based Maria Taylor provided some mid-tempo indie rock with country-ish vocals. It was a bit of a family affair with her brother handling bass and sister on keyboards, and a few friends filling in the left stage guitar and drums. There was a cover of the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?" thrown in for good measure. Mr. Oberst, sporting a rather working man's beard, came out to sing for a song, too. Fairly interesting stuff overall.
One of the two bands I had been purposely in attendance for then prepared to bring the rock to the masses. Criteria, fronted by a ridiculoulsy tall front-man in Stephen Pedersen, delivered it thusly, for the most part. It was obvious Criteria had to bring their best material to the set list to impress a crowd otherwise not quite familiar with the band. While single "Prevent The World," "Me On Your Front Porch," and "Good Luck" were by and large standouts despite healthy amounts of energy from the outfit through and through, the set sorely lacked with no inclusion of what could've been a great change of emotion in "This Life," and the band's ultimate anthem, "It Happens." Still, it was clear Pedersen is doing what he loves, and not just using it as a hobby away from his normal attorney work, and it was enjoyable in its own right.
Orenda Fink came on with members of several other Saddle Creek / possibly Team Love bands to play some light, billowy indie pop. She and Taylor normally do full-time in yet another Saddle Creek member, Azure Ray, so in that sense it was somewhat similar, but Fink leaned more towards the pop side of things with heavier dependency on keyboard and piano. Some rather soulful tunes were played, and while it didn't quite fall into my normal listening pattern, I was oddly compelled, maybe due to the rather perfect harmonizing between the members. A cover was played as well, though I'm hard-pressed to remember any lyrics to help look it up.
As every band was playing on the hour, every hour, Cursive FINALLY took the stage at 1:00 in the A.M. You could say it was worth it, though. Lead singer and guitarist Tim Kasher stood to the left of the stage, strangely, and was exuberantly expressive throughout. While the recent departure of cellist Gretta Cohn left the band somewhat incomplete when playing songs off their last proper full-length, 2003's The Ugly Organ, they performed admirably. In fact, the standout of the set was by far and away "A Gentleman Caller," which exploded with its opening chords and Kasher's signature throaty yell of "ya gentleman callerrrr! Well he's been callin' on another!" The second guitar managed to replicate the cello sound perfectly, even in the key parts in "Art Is Hard." They even threw in "Dispenser," which opens their recent singles collection, and was, as Kasher described, one of the first songs they'd ever written as a band; some vague Blink-182 being in the practice space joke was thrown in in a sure reference to the song's more bouncy, poppy vibe than most Cursive material. Three new songs were played as well, presumably off the band's forthcoming LP, due some time in 2006. The first two were both up-tempo and rather jangly, but in a heavy, rocking sort of way, and were way off from what you'd expect from the band. Definitely a bit more accessible than anything in their catalog, and a strange step from Organ, but interesting nonetheless, the last being more slow-paced. It was a great set that proved the band hasn't lost its touch despite the hiatus undergone.
Set list (from the paper and accurate):
- 1 Pretty Baby
- 2 Mothership
- 3 Gentleman
- 4 Dispenser
- 5 Song 1
- 6 Driftwood
- 7 Nostalgia
- 8 Pivotal
- 9 Recluse
- 10 Song 7*
- 11 Martyr
- 12 Art
- 13 Makin' Friends
- 14 Song 5
* - I'm assuming this infers the band has at least 7 songs worked on, so far.