by Jack Diablo
Saddle Creek recording artists, Cursive, stopped in Orlando as part of their tour in support of their latest album. EU was there for the April 30th performance of the two-night engagement, which also featured ANTI records group Man Man.
You might expect that playing two nights in a row in the same city would result in a lackluster show, but neither of the bands that played displayed any signs of restlessness or lost steam. It was a great night of incredible live music.
The evening didn’t start out so hot though. The opening act was comedian Andrew Wright, who told “art jokes.” According to Wright, art jokes are “like normal jokes except less people think they’re funny.” In other words, no one. For most of his performance he wore a ridiculous alien mask to hide his face from the groaning crowd. His routine was not unlike that of Carrot Top and all in all went over like a fart in church. Normally I do not approve of heckling, but anything this guy got was deserved. Security wouldn’t let us take him out so we had to suffer through his Jeff Foxworthy parody routine of “You might be a squatter if…” jokes.
Thankfully, the follow up was the maniac Zappa-esque ensemble of Man Man. Everyone forgot about the terrible comedy when the band took to the stage and got freaky on a variety of keyboard and percussion instruments including marimba, xylophone, organ, and various objects that sound cool when you beat the crap out of them with a drum stick. Watching them was like observing the insides of an asylum for musical geniuses. Or better yet, if Jerry Lee Lewis had spawned an unruly and ironically dressed gang of brats hopped up on psychedelics and started a family band. Not a word was spoken between songs, it was solid music the whole set.
Honus Honus and the other aliased members of Man Man have been classified as experimental. But then again, they’ve also been referred to as “Viking-vaudeville,” whatever that means. But no matter what you call it, one thing remains – it is fun! And fun is just about the best word to describe a Man Man show. Their energy is infectious to old fans and new initiates alike. And with the well-planned layout of The Social, there is nary a bad vantage point to watch this mind-blowing spectacle unfold. After their set I was convinced that the performance would be a show-stealer.
Before I get into it, I should preface by saying that Cursive is one of, if not my favorite band. Our relationship has been speckled with awe, inspiration, disappointment and rediscovery. At first I was attracted to their spooky dissonance and the inclusion of the cello on their Burst and Bloom EP. From there I went back and fell in love with Domestica, and by the time The Ugly Organ came out, I was smitten. With his heart on his sleeve and his tongue planted firmly in cheek, Tim Kasher wrote songs about writing songs and pleasing the fans who wanted to feel his pain and torment. It was creative and different and opened my eyes and ears to new pathways in music. So when Happy Hollow came out sans cellist Gretta Cohn, I was initially disappointed. Musically, it just wasn’t the same and I almost lost faith. It took years before I fully appreciated the tighter thematics and storytelling of the album.
Their latest release, Mama, I’m Swollen, evoked similar feelings at first. Before I received the LP in the mail, all I had was the digital download to hold me over. It was good, but pinpointing the thread that tied the songs together proved troublesome. The songs grew on me but it wasn’t until I finally got my hands on the liner notes and lyrics that it really congealed and exposed it’s hidden beauty. While not quite as cohesive as Happy Hollow, the looseness of Mama, I’m Swollen afforded Kasher the ability to cast a wider net and return to the more personal perspective of The Ugly Organ. The seeming disparity between the tracks is revealed to be much more united in the way the lyrics are organized in the liner notes as a kind of diary or letter to “Mama.” The irony in making an album in this fashion is highlighted when on ‘From The Hips,’ Kasher sings, “I don’t want to know the goddamn words / I don’t want to have to spell it out.” On many of the songs on this record, what seems straight-forward enough turn out to be veiled double-entendre and sarcastic observations of society. There’s more than one way to read the line “I couldn’t love you any more,” and in ‘Caveman’ he seems to rail against upward mobility – “I want to unlearn what I’ve learned / I want to unearn what I’ve earned.”
So, I was concerned that this would potentially be the death of my love affair with this band. I was convinced I would be mortally disappointed, that it would be a boring affair to appease new fans and alienate the likes of myself. I was gratefully proved wrong.
By opening with ‘Sink to the Beat,’ it felt as though they had tipped their hats at the fans who have stuck it through. From there they played plenty of older tunes and just the right ones off the new album. Even some of the songs I wasn’t so crazy about from Happy Hollow sounded amazing and I found myself screaming every word, a new appreciation bubbling up inside. With a band that has been around for more than a few years, it is inevitable that they won’t end up playing all the ones you want to hear, but they played enough of the right ones to make up for it.
What struck me was how sober and yet high-spirited Kasher appeared. For one so “under the influence of all those drunken romantics,” I would have pegged him as someone who only performed staggering drunk. But despite his apparent sobriety, he didn’t hold back and seemed to really enjoy the playing the music as much as the audience did listening to it.
I left the show with a renewed adoration for Cursive and proceeded to play their entire discography on the long drive home to Jacksonville.
Cursive w/ Man Man
by Jack Diablo