Live Review, 2/22/12: Cursive Is Flawless But Not Thrilling at Great American Music Hall

cursive-gamh-noise-pop.jpg
Travis Hayes Busse
Cursive at Great American Music Hall

Cursive
Ume
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012
Great American Music Hall

Better than:
Staying in with a record player and a glass of wine (but only just).

Going to see Cursive at the Great American Music Hall tonight is a little bit like going to an amusement park and finding that only one rollercoaster is open. It's good. There's nothing wrong with it. But you don't leave with any great stories and nothing really, truly, blows your mind.

Cursive is a solid, reliable band that plays everything flawlessly and more than competently. Tim Kasher's vocals swing effortlessly between soft, agonizing, and downright fucking angry. But Cursive never veer off the path you're expecting, so they don't provide any solid jolts of surprise, really. What they do is play an enjoyable set of reliably impassioned tunes that you really can't argue with -- but the flashes of real excitement are few and far between.

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Which is very much in keeping with openers, Ume. The lady-fronted trio play the kind of melodic, indie rock 'n' roll that both Liz Phair and Belly would've been proud of in the '90s. And while charismatic frontwoman Lauren Larson puts on a good show with all the exaggerated posturing of a female Jimi Hendrix, and while Ume's set starts as engaging and refreshing, it all soon becomes repetitive and lackluster. There's great potential here, but the Austin trio isn't quite there yet.

It would be a stretch to call Cursive predictable as well, but they don't do anything surprising, either. And it's clear, judging from audience response, that a lot of people here are mostly interested in hearing tracks from Cursive's best-known album, 2003's The Ugly Organ. "The Ugly Organist" and especially "Some Red Handed Slight of Hand," at the end of the set, cause quite a ruckus.

Outside of that, only "The Martyr," from 2000's Domestica really, truly moves the crowd en masse -- it's probably the highlight of the entire set. Certainly, it's the point in the evening when Kasher's vocals are at their best -- swinging from hoarsely passionate to softly pleading, and hitting absurdly high notes effortlessly. "I Couldn't Love You" also provides a gorgeous, textured, wonderfully slow-building moment, and "I Am Gemini" is another highlight.  

But, sadly, for the most part, Cursive fails to thrill on a deep level tonight. At one point, when a scuffle breaks out close to the front of the stage, the person next to us is so thrilled, they nudge us, grin, point at the fight, and start shouting "Cursive fight! Cursive fight!," fist in the air, like it's a pre-planned event. It's not that we want people to claw each other's faces off for our own amusement, but, as that concertgoer's response to a negative incident can attest, tonight's set could definitely do with more thrills.

Truth be told, only a die-hard Cursive fan could've truly been overwhelmed with what happened this evening. A few of those fans were visible, but they were very much in the minority. For most of us, tonight was about hearing some songs we liked, nodding our heads for the highlights, showing our appreciation and going home, not exactly disappointed, but certainly not overwrought with emotion, either. We've seen Cursive do better.

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Great American Music Hall

859 O'Farrell, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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