The two-hundred-person Maxwell’s is a great place for an intimate evening between artists and their fans. With reasonable drink prices, no security, and a barricade-free stage, the venue was practically built for an act like Cursive. Without a New York City date on this tour–likely due to multiple dates in Manhattan and Brooklyn earlier in the year–Hoboken sold out quickly, packing the house with Jersey and City fans alike.
The Love Language opened the evening, spreading their infectious indie-rooted love-sick pop. The North Carolina band functions as a touring septet, but it is driven entirely by guitarist and lead vocalist Stuart McLamb. To support and tour on The Love Language (the self-titled debut issued earlier this year), McLamb enlisted a variety of extremely talented friends and family to surround him on stage.
Junis Beefmonth handles the subtle–yet intricate–guitar work, allowing McLamb to play less complicated riffs while providing lead vocals. The band’s thick sound is anchored by a competent rhythm section lead by drummer Thomas Simpson, bassist Joshua Pope, and multi-instrumentalist Jordan McLamb, who switched effortlessly between a battered acoustic guitar and assorted percussion. Equally important to the band’s sonic assault are keyboardists Kate Thompson and Missy Thangs, cutely positioned on each end of the stage. Throughout their set, The Love Language harmonized well, often with four or more of the members of the band layering vocals.
It’s hard to imagine the band putting on a better performance, even if Simpson occasioanlly spent too much time crashing the ride symbol and drowning out some of the band’s intricate melodies. Even when singing of hopelessness and despair, such as on “Sparxxx” (“it left my heart in ruin, all my thoughts just ran apart like a pack of restless children, I’ve landed in the worst of worlds, with a dry canteen and plastic sword, goodbye to blue skies”), the band radiated with positive energy. With bright smiles (and each of the girls dancing with tambourines when not providing keys), the band genuinely appeared to be enjoying every second of their performance.
Opening for a different band, The Love Language might have stolen the show. On a bill with Cursive, however, they never stood a chance. Walking through the crowd while the band played the opening riff to “Butcher the Song”, frontman Tim Kasher unassumingly commanded an entire venue’s attention and respect. While waiting to sing the song’s first words, Kasher eyed the crowd and built a remarkable tension. It finally burst with the song’s first lines: “There’s a time and a place, this is neither the time nor the place!”.
“Dorothy at Forty” followed with the whole crowd singing along, but it was not until the band reached back to Burst and Bloom EP (“Sink to the Beat”) that Cursive truly caught fire. “Driftwood” immediately followed, showcasing the band’s alluring storytelling abilities. The song soars around a twisting melody, complete with haunting singalongs (“my arms, my legs, my heart, my face!”). As “Some Red Handed Sleight of Handed” segued beautifully into “Art is Hard”, the crowd finally returned Cursive’s explosive energy in the form of stage dives and noticeably growing pits. The band finished off their written setlist with Mama, I’m Swollen closer “What Have I Done?”.
Surprisingly quiet between songs for most of the evening, Kasher did break into one long-winded rant against religion: “There’s a Christian music channel? Where’s our atheist channel…where they play “Big Bang” all day?” The band returned a few minutes later with that very track, an essential cut from Happy Hollow featuring an excellent performance by the multi-talented Patrick Newberry handling both keys and horns. The band played a great rendition of “From the Hips” before kicking into “The Recluse”–bringing the number of The Ugly Organ songs up to five. As the crowd spilled onto the stage, Cursive finished the evening with “The Martyr”; the full setlist:
Butcher the Song
Dorothy at Forty
Mama, I’m Satan
Sink to the Beat
I Couldn’t Love You
Rise Up!! Rise Up!!
Making Friends and Acquaintances
Mama, I’m Swollen
Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand
Art is Hard
What Have I Done?
Modern Love (David Bowie cover)
From the Hips
With a solid seventeen-song setlist, Cursive played for just over an hour and sounded superb the entire time. Though the band played just two songs from Domestica (likely their best work to date) and omitted the beautiful “Sierra”, Cursive managed to put together a strong collection of songs dating back to the turn of the millennium. When the band took things back to 1983 with a cover, it was just as powerful: David Bowie’s “Modern Love” received solid treatment as Kasher poured his heart into every word. In an age of auto-tune and neon lights dominating the radio and giant arenas, the Omaha natives are a healthy reminder that soulful, honest music still exists–even if has been forced into hiding, resonating in the tiny halls of New Jersey’s two-hundred capacity bars.