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Against all odds it seems Cursive has found a second wind. Finally stepping out of the long shadow of 2003’s The Ugly Organ and winning crowds back after the disappointing response to 2006’s Happy Hollow, Cursive is selling out shows and finding airplay with the unlikely single “From the Hips.” Even more surprising, Cursive has their live show together for the first time in years. Front man Tim Kasher has earned a reputation for awful, drunk performances, and his disdain for playing the same songs every night has always been evident. His lack of luster was equaled if not bettered by his three doughy bandmates who would do little more onstage than stare angrily into the middle distance while performing with mechanical interest.

But none of that seemed to matter to the packed house, crammed together in the main room of The Back Cat on a rainy Sunday night in DC. The crowd was given an excellent warm-up by opener Man Man, whose musicianship rivaled Captain Beefheart while the performance basked in the hedonism of Gogol Bordello. Man Man was in fact so good, it seemed they would only exacerbate Cursive’s live weaknesses.

But when Kasher emerged from the curtains carrying his pedal board, he not only looked sober, but happy as he shouted an extended “Hello!” to the front row. With no soundcheck, the quiet, brooding guitar intro to “Butcher the Song” opened the show. The song is one of the most exciting tracks off Ugly Organ and Cursive never fails to make it drag live. But this show was different. Not only was the crowd constantly pulling more from the band, Cursive simply looked like they cared this time. Unlike their Happy Hollow tour, Cursive had finally arranged the songs to compensate for the loss of the cello, utilizing a series of keyboards and the occasional trumpet.

If the explosive dynamics of “Butcher” wasn’t the surprise of the night, it was the huge sound of the next song, “Dorothy at Forty” that sent the front rows into hysterics. It also set the pace for the rest of the show. From usual live dredges like “The Great Decay” and “Casualty,” Cursive reincarnated these aging classics with walls of sound and honed dissonance. No doubt, a large debt goes to the new drummer Cully Symington, who is more conventional than his predecessor, but fills out the sound with a fresh vigor that Cursive has needed for years.

The crowd was evenly divided between scarf-wearing indie kids and drunk moshing meatheads, but everyone knew every word to every song. The new material blended seamlessly in the set list of Cursive live standards, with “Couldn’t Love You” and the heart-wrenching “What Have I Done?” showcasing how far the band has come in their years together.

For the encore, the lumbering “Big Bang” got the heathens pumping their fists, but it was the energy of “A Gentleman Caller” that once again breathed life into the flat lining {Ugly Organ} highlights. “From the Hips” and “The Martyr” rounded out the unbelievable set, and for the first time after a Cursive show, I wanted to do it all again.

by Brian Loeper
[Photos: Amber Montemayor]

Setlist:

Butcher the Song
Dorothy at Forty
Couldn’t Love You
The Great Decay
The Recluse
Casualty
Mama, I’m Satan
Rise Up! Rise Up!
The Game of Who Needs Who the Worst
Mama, I’m Swollen
The Ugly Organist
Some Red-Handed Slight of Hand
Art is Hard
What Have I Done?

Big Bang
A Gentleman Caller
From the Hips
The Martyr

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