w/Damien Jurado, Raft of Dead Monkeys

Graceland, 381-3094, Mon March 19.

"Maybe I'm just sobering up to things a little more," Cursive's Tim Kasher tells me after the show he played with his other excellent band, the Good Life, two weeks ago. He doesn't have much time to talk and he seems tired, though he is perfectly gracious and willing to give what he can in the five or 10 minutes he has to spare.

"Tonight was a perfect example of a night when I was kind of going through the motions," he tells me. "I wasn't really thinking about the songs. I guess I was more interested in what movie I'd like to rent." It's hard to believe, given that the show held the audience in rapt silence and literally brought tears to the eyes of a friend I was with.

Still, perhaps Kasher is sobering up a bit, or, at least his mood is changing. Cursive has just finished recording a new EP (as of yet, there is no title) to be released on Saddle Creek in June. The band has added a fifth member, cellist Gretta Cohn, who is, according to Kasher, in the process of uprooting herself from New York City to move to Omaha and play with the band, so she will not be at this Seattle show. "She's really... I don't want to say 'professional'... she's just really good at playing her instrument," Kasher says. The band has even been publicly expressing an interest in writing softer, poppier songs, which could be considered something of a sobering departure.

But there have always been gentler spots in Cursive's material, like in the song "Downhill Racers" from Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes, the band's 1997 Crank! release: "The sweetest dreams have murdered me," Kasher whispers. "They murdered me. They murdered me." It's a particularly somber moment for the frontman, who goes on to scream, "These are the seconds that I've lost." Such aching, conflicted urgency--the hot emotional center propelling Kasher's blood-filled voice--is what makes Cursive one of the most compelling emo/hardcore groups playing music today.

The band's most recent Saddle Creek release, last year's Cursive's Domestica, probes the ashen depths of Kasher's failed marriage, wrought with alcoholism, dysfunction, and emotional violence. He pens a brutal, critical voice into the album's lyrics that, though performed by Kasher himself, introduces the voice of a second character, a wife, that plays out in reflective self-denouncement: "You only feel sorry for yourself and that's how you thrive. Your sorrow's your gold mine. So write some sad song about me, screaming your agonies, playing the saint."

"I had in no way intended to write about such personal things," Kasher tells me. "There's a fiction to it. One way in which it was really fiction is that the characters actually stay together on the album. I just thought that since people had caught wind of the fact that I had gotten a divorce, they thought that this was a record about divorce." The final song on Domestica, "The Night I Lost the Will to Fight," is an exhausted document: "One February night we screamed our agonies, and I swear I tried to care. I tried, I tried. But the icicles hung down like prison bars and I lost the will to fight."

Cursive performs such songs live with a stupefying immediacy. The band has a pummeling rhythm section and violent guitar melodies, all of which are played out with fierce, mathematical precision. As Kasher's face goes the blood-red of suffering, one feels unable to separate from the apparent depth of his investment. It seems masochistic to write, record, and then perform the intimate, life-changing revelations contained in Domestica.

"I actually felt bad because I wasn't feeling anything," Kasher tells me of the months that followed the record's release. "That's kind of the ugly thing that can happen when you're playing songs every night. The songs kind of deteriorate. The music can be exhausting to play no matter what's happening emotionally. I think on the nights when I'm completely distant, people are maybe receiving incorrect signals."

"Well, is it at least cathartic then?" I ask.

"Not anymore. It used to be. I've learned to separate life and music. I'm generally a pretty happy person, actually."

As he says goodbye with the good-natured politeness that comes naturally to someone who is well adjusted, I have this weird moment in which I wonder if I've been duped. But then there's no way of knowing, because Kasher is (at least in terms of alcohol consumption) genuinely sober, while I, having been blissed out and invigorated by his performance with the Good Life, am already well beyond the beginning stages of drunk.

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