Released in 2003, Cursive’s fourth album was the product of a lot of blood, sweat, tears and other bodily fluids. It’s not called ‘The Ugly Organ’ for nothing, after all. Combine that viscous concoction with mainman Tim Kasher’s confessional, often alcohol-sodden tales of empty sex and emotional instability, plus the powerful complexity of its semi-orchestral compositions and the result was a true modern masterpiece of an album. In keeping with Kasher/Cursive’s occasionally dysfunctional nature, the tenth anniversary edition of the record didn’t appear until last year, and this tour celebrating that milestone is only now in progress. Tonight is the last of three New York shows, a relatively intimated setting compared to the previous two, for which the band have to walk through the dense crowd to get to the stage.
They do so following a sublime set from The Nighty Nite – the new band from producer extraordinaire and former Paper Chase frontman John Congleton – and new kids on the blocks Beach Slang. There might not be too many people watching the former, but it’s a truly mesmerising performance, Congleton writhing and contorting as if possessed by his intense and eerie, spooky and unnerving songs. Beach Slang’s anthemic, emotionally fraught punk has often been compared to Jawbreaker, but they owe just as much, if not more, to The Psychedelic Furs, something they acknowledge with a cover of that band’s Love My Way. Frontman James Snyder is full of a hyper, restless energy, which feeds into the band’s own songs, and confident, passionate performances of Get Lost and Filthy Luck justify the attention they’ve been receiving.
To say that Cursive’s Tim Kasher has always put the entirety of his tortured heart into all of his musical projects would be an understatement, and he’s often appeared as wretched and drunk as he is in his songs. Tonight, though, he and the band – who are joined by Gretta Cohn, who played cello on The Ugly Organ and who Kasher says the band haven’t toured with for over ten years – seem utterly together. After making their way through the crowd – to Van Halen, no less – they start things off with Sink To The Beat and Big Bang before Kasher announces that “it’s time”.
And as Some Red Handed Sleight Of Hand and Art Is Hard fill the room with an unforgiving and unrelenting burst of visceral energy, the emotional gravitas of this album is almost visible. They play the whole record in order, but break up the sordid and salacious narrative with other memories, interspersing it with other songs from their twenty-year career.
As a device, it works well, breaking up the predictability of the album set well without ruining the overall thread of feel of the record, and the likes of The Martyr and From The Hips sit well within the context of the evening. Of course, it’s the songs from The Ugly Organ that are the heroes of the evening. The Recluse’s tale of existential self-doubt after a drunken one night stand shimmers both with beauty and an unlikely dignity, while the complex, discordant and primal Butcher The Song – which is essentially about self-castration – floats around in the air until its impressive crescendo falls the floor in a rush of desperation and self-loathing. A Gentleman Caller ends with a wonderful sense of solidarity – the whole room joining Kasher to shout and sing along that “the worst is ever” – while Sierra burns up with a rush of fiery sadness and uncertainty.
A slightly too-long Q&A section with the audience is fun, but detracts somewhat from the overall force of the night, while Nonsense, a song that didn’t make it onto the album, doesn’t add all that much to the proceedings. Kasher might not be sober – the band do shots twice during the course of the set – but he’s wholly switched on and in absolute control of himself, his faculties and his songs. He’s also clearly humbled and overwhelmed by the night and the crowd’s reception to what they’re seeing. “I love being a part of what this album meant to you,” he tells the audience towards the end, and he seems on the verge of tears as he says that. He’s not the only one.