LIVE: Cursive, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

The first Cursive record I obsessed over was not The Ugly Organ. It was actually Happy Hollow, the band’s misunderstood (and possibly underrated) fifth record, that pulled me in. A few days before my 16th birthday, my father and I took a trip down south and paid a visit to the Redwoods in North California, and – among other things – I brought with me Happy Hollow. I played that record to death, and somehow didn’t get to the point of my father throwing my iPod out the window during the trip. I know we must have listened to other things on that trip, but that’s the thing that sticks out more than almost anything. Everything comes back to The Ugly Organ, though: after my father went to bed one night, I wandered from our hotel room to the nearest grocery store and listened to that record for the very first time. I never quite got over either of those records, but I fell the hardest for Ugly Organ in the end. More than 10 years later, every inch of that record feels absolutely perfect, without a single ounce of unnecessary fluff or fat. It is, somehow, still probably the best album to ever come out of Saddle Creek Records.

More than 10 years later, Ugly Organ is still a record worth celebrating. Which is why, instead of touring behind new material, the band are out on the road promoting the recent reissue of the album (which I can tell you, after having a peek at the merch booth, looks gorgeous) – but, we’ll get to all of that in a moment or two.

I only caught three songs from Slow Bird, from Seattle, WA. I regret not catching more of the band’s set, because what I heard was incredibly tight. The trio’s music may not really be a breath of fresh air – they really aren’t treading any uncharted territory with their material – but they manage to make wonderfully atmospheric and surprisingly soulful indie rock, and it was a fantastic way to start off the evening. It’ll be very interesting to see how they develop over the next few years.

The night’s second band, Beach Slang, also fit into the category of “Can’t wait to see what happens next”. Make no mistake here: the band’s set was absolutely astounding. They’re a band that wear their influences on their sleeves in a major way, but it never verges into the territory of lifeless pastiche, but instead turns an obvious love of The Replacements and Big Star into something entirely fresh, and incredibly fun. The band are currently recording a new album, a follow-up to their superb four-track Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken, which I can’t recommend enough.

And then, there’s Cursive. I didn’t know, walking in, that the plan was to play The Ugly Organ, in it’s entirety, mixed in with a couple b-sides from the record, as well as songs from the rest of their career. It was a definite trip down memory lane, with almost no focus on the records that came after: a song each from Happy Hollow, Mama, I’m Swollen, and I Am Gemini. I got a chance to see Tim Kasher solo last year, but this was a whole different ballgame entirely. Dressed in a suit and tie, he commanded the stage in a way that few frontmen do, and somehow made the act of chewing gum while performing an act of immeasurable suaveness.

Surprisingly, Cursive do not seem sick of any of the songs from that era. They whipped in and out of stretches from the album with jarring intensity, and the crowd ate up every moment, most noticeably during “The Recluse” when the crowd chanted every word louder than Kasher himself – which is, if I’m honest, one of my favorite things about bands performing their classics. It’s an act of passion and love, which fit perfectly with the nature of the show. It’s somewhat rare these days to see a crowd that feels like they are completely with the band every step of the way, and it was a treat to be a part of that evening.

Aside from Ugly Organ tracks, they tossed in a small handful of equally old songs: two from Domestica (“The Casualty” and “The Martyr”, which left me wanting a similar show for that record) and the criminally underrated Burst & Bloom (“Sink to the Beat” and “This House Alive”), and though the latter two didn’t rile up the crowd like the rest, it was a pleasure to see them performed for an adoring crowd. They ended the set with “Sierra” and the squalls of “Staying Alive”, which perfectly capped off an already unbeatable set, and despite still wanting more (I’d have paid to see “Shallow Means, Deep Ends” or “Hum of the Radiator”), I got to leave completely satisfied, and impressively wiped out.

At the moment, Cursive are nearly three years removed from I Am Gemini, and though I was never a fan of that record, I feel like the intensity of this performance bodes well for the band’s future, even if it was the result of a deep dive into the band’s past. I’m not sure if I need to see the band again after this show, but if they can match that passion with the next one, I’ll still happily turn out to see them any chance I get.

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