By Jason McDowell   Published Sep 25, 2006 at 5:15 AM
Cursive played The Pabst Theater last night with openers Ladyfinger and The Thermals.

Cursive dripped out on stage, starting with one member plucking out twangs of noise and feedback.  Slowly, the other members took their places. Once the band fully assembled they took off. I've grown used to some of the degraded sounds produced at shows in our local venues (not that I don't love them!) so it really is amazing to hear that first blast of crystalline sound coming from the majestic Pabst Theater. It is hard to think of a better place to showcase the band's new horn section.

Cursive is known for their concept heavy albums, setting them up as a theatrical stage show for the ears, and they take some advantage of this when the eyes are involved as well. There are no extravagant costumes, but lead singer Tim Kasher used several musical interludes to travel the stage when he wasn't singing; he fought for control of his limbs when he spilled his heart on the microphone. Unfortunately, with former cellist Greta Cohn gone, and the instrument's subsequent disappearance from the new album, the cello was forced to the side of the stage instead of being the centerpiece it once was.

The set list played closely to more recent releases -- "The Ugly Organ" and the newest, "Happy Hollows" -- providing a nice even mix between personal demons and grander social commentary, while contrasting the darker cello tones of one song with the dissonant brassy horns in the next. The old singles were in there as well as the future selections; my favorite, "Driftwood," made no appearance.

Their last song of the night was "Hymns for the Heathens," also the last song on their newest album, which provided a fitting closing chapter on the night.

Overall it was a pleasant experience, not wholly unlike what I was expecting. Cursive has taken their time coming to our beautiful city, with a not so beautiful name (in his words).  So, it is easy to appreciate catching them live years after discovering them. However, I would love to see a band as innovative and powerful as these guys put a little more thought in their pre-show entertainment.

Openers The Thermals lulled me into a trance with their brand of bland one-note pop punk, with one song blurring into the next. When fearing that I might possibly have drifted away from something more subtle that I should be noting I only found that the number of chords played could be counted on one hand. Note that the number of chords doesn't make or break a song (ask The Ramones), but it is unfortunate that I was more intrigued with keeping tabs than paying attention to the music.

Apparently somewhere in the history of music "Rock 'n' Roll" turned into "Spinnin' Wheels."

Going on a tour with a band like this does make some sense. If your opener's vocals are unimpressive and irritating, while the music is unimaginative, it certainly makes you look a lot better -- maybe they just want us to buy more of their merch.