Children of the Scorn

I pity the girls who’ve made Tim Kasher cry—and clearly there have been a few. The thin, shaggy-haired Cursive frontman with the boyish face and devastating vocal range played a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night. He’s no longer sad. Still pissed, though, and definitely a little drunk, his memory mercilessly intact. In fact, on the softest song of the set, the seductive “Excerpts,” he seethed, I remember everything, ruminating over the naked, slumbering body of his ex, even the pressure from her hips. No sacred detail is left unexorcised, issuing from Kasher’s dark, inflamed throat as he flails, and wrestles with his guitar (which tends to win and send him thrashing to the ground).

Cursive are touring to support the release of their third full-length, The Ugly Organ, coming out on Saddle Creek in March. Saturday’s set, however, relied heavily on material from past splits and 2000’s aching Domestica, their concept album about lost love (and rumored portrait of the decay of Kasher’s marriage). The Cursive crowd is a mixed bag: the hardcore set is there for the relentless rock, the indie kids come for the emotional, honest lyrics sung by a man destroyed by love and still begging for more. Kasher’s cries echo those of close friend and label mate Conor Oberst (who drank on the balcony with fellow Saddle Creekers), and I’m now officially convinced there must be some sort of School for Screamers deep in the heart of Nebraska.

Played live, Domestica‘s “Making Friends and Acquaintances” showcased the band’s wicked timing as it whispered and crept softly, then escalated into a violent melody, both fierce and restrained. Conscious of the exhausting weight of Kasher’s bloodied vocals, the pummeling rhythm section, and Greta Cohn’s brooding cello, Cursive were kind enough to alleviate the fury with some necessary nonsense. When “Excerpts” dissolved into a storm of feedback and frenzied strings, up from the murk rose Kasher’s deep, wry voice, “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got/ I’m still Jenny from the block,” he chanted, and the room was relieved to let him veer from sincerity to follow, if only for three minutes, the unexamined path. —Sarah Wilson

Bending Bars

Talib Kweli needs to tell Rakim that he had it wrong—it’s the studio that cages. Kweli is an MC with too much to say, and when on the mic, a babbling brook he is not. If anything he spits lefty, and flows more awkward than Ken Norton. Couplets come to him as a jagged avalanche of boasts and black nationalist theory. The studio is supposed to file down such rough edges. But Kweli is a rough edge, and for him the studio—an altar to the gods of the perfect take—is all chains and bars. The stage, however, is an open sea, and Thursday at S.O.B.’s Kweli and partner in Black Star, Mos Def, were swimming with fins.

It was a joint effort, but Kweli captivated, not so much by outshining his partner, but by demonstrating the split between his live and recorded self. In the whirl of waving hands, Kweli’s penchant for packing words into a bar seemed no longer clumsy, but deliriously nimble. The stage has no need of precision, and Kweli gave none. But when his DJ threw a chopped Nina Simone riff on the tables, and Kweli crooned “Just to get by, just to get by,” a legion of arms knifed all the air. There was nothing slick. It was all force and energy, in enough quantity to render the mighty Mos Def a hype-man. That is, until the DJ wound up the track to “Ms. Fat Booty” and Mos spun his old tale of curvaceous Cassandra and brought things to a nasty close. But by then the message of the night was clear. It’s a good evening, indeed, when an MC can walk into a spot, disrespect rhythm, and still get the crowd raising fists like a legion of Tommie Smiths. —Ta-Nehisi Coates

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