I'd never been to Union Hall and was taken back as soon as I walked in. It was a warmly furnished, charming bar whose walls were decorated like an old library. Deep into the place was a two-lane bocce court. I wouldn't actually get to experience too much of it because the show was downstairs. Nonetheless, that was downstairs was a fairly spacious one, which became a little more confined as you approached the stage. That was fine with me. Cursive was likely to become the only band I'd seen live at Roseland Ballroom and in a basement.
Unfortunately, doors were pushed back an hour and change and it seemed the show would never start. Finally, at 9:50, a partially balding, fully bespectacled Dan McCarthy walked up with his acoustic guitar and after a short intro began playing. McCarthy Trenching, as he went by, played a half-hour set of folk songs that mostly took place in bars. With his interesting narratives, it was easy to shut out the typical bar chatter that continued behind the crowd. If I was lazy, which I am, I'd say I occasionally got a Good Life vibe, though the subject matter tended to be more quirky than depressing. One song was about a young man losing his virginity to a Valentine, NE stripper and then having his car stolen by her.
Twin Thousands took his place 20 minutes later. The six-piece is the newest endeavor for cellist/keyboardist/vocalist Gretta Cohn, who played in Cursive from 2001-2005. Their set ran the gamut from dramatic, sad bastard ballads to more upbeat, sing-along indie pop fare. The former was usually led by vocalist/keyboardist/occasionally ukuleleist (I think?) Ryan Smith, who also spends time with A Million Billion and the Silent League. He had a pretty rough, strained voice that was wild and out of key, but it worked for the songs pretty well. Despite all the technical difficulties, they weren't bad, but as they reached the end of their 45 minutes, I think most everyone was ready for Cursive.
After a long and frustrating wait (a good 40 minutes), with Kasher prefacing the setup, even, by apologizing profusely for the band's tardiness, Cursive was finally ready to meet the wild anticipation. The crowd was sort of drunk, a little rowdy and sometimes obnoxious, but never too much of any. In fact, when one dude randomly said "Fuck you!" to Kasher mid-set, the frontman demanded he come on stage. He received an apology and then ordered the heckler to buy a double shot of Jameson, a request that was promptly fulfilled.
That double shot of Jameson was probably a drop in the pool for Kasher, though -- he was shitfaced. And it was awesome. Every song he would puncutate his words with wild finger-pointing, as if he was arguing with the crowd. He was the actual character we all imagine Isaac Brock to be on any old Modest Mouse album: arms flailing and voice cracking, yet never missing a note or lyric.
I should mention the talents of Cornbread Compton. He was just ridiculous, with his intricate fills taking every song to the next level. Even Kasher seemed taken back at one point, turning around during a fill in "The Casualty" and giving him a look of impressed bewilderment.
The band sprinkled in five new songs from the upcoming Mama, I'm Swollen, and they were all pretty great. The first one seemed to be the obvious single, as Kasher repeatedly howled various ways of phrasing "I can't love you anymore." Another traded off between a clean, cool narrative and bustling, raw rock, and it ruled. The epic "What Have I Done?" (as christened by those who have posted live versions on YouTube) was grand, too.
Kasher's fiancée, Sarah, seems to be along for the tour as well, since she was present at the show. Kasher called her out and gushly declared his love for her, and the two even made out on stage. Several times. Kasher later summed it up well: "I'm sorry. That was awkward." She lightly contributed some vocals to "Art Is Hard" and "What Have I Done?", in fact. Kasher seems happy with her, and hey, if it doesn't work out, you gotta think there'll be some more fantastically bitter Cursive and Good Life albums that result.
Among familiar material, "Dorothy at Forty" might've been the standout, as the whole room was just serious ruckus and Kasher's theatrics were in even wilder form. No one really seemed to recognize "A Disruption...," but it was played pretty well and provided a nice little raw moment.
The encore was really just Kasher explaining to the crowd that it was the end of the set list proper and they had another four songs planned. After he received the appropriate applause the band launched into them. For the last, "Sierra," Kasher stepped off stage and brought the entire mic stand with him, carrying it deep into the middle of the crowd. There he stood and gyrated, continuing his ridiculous gesticulations while fans bounced around him and shouted the awesomely coarse lyrics to the song along with him.
Set list (12:05-1:16):
- Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand
- Sink to the Beat
- new song [listed on set list as "♥ You"]
- Making Friends and Acquaintances
- new song [listed on set list as "Alps"]
- Driftwood: A Fairy Tale
- Dorothy at Forty
- Mama, I'm Swollen [new]
- A Disruption in... [either "...the Normal of Swings" or "...Our Lines of Influence"]
- Art Is Hard
- new song [titled by YouTubers as "What Have I Done?"]
- Big Bang
- new song [lyric: "I'll cast you out"]
- The Casualty
So, essentially, a Cursive basement show. It was awesome. I don't know if you can do much better.