When I first heard of the billing of Omaha art-rockers Cursive and the Chicago mainstays Alkaline Trio I was a little confused. On one hand, the two groups didnt seem like they would be a good mesh. Cursives brand of rock is at times an acquired taste with quick tempo and style changes and epic storytelling. A Cursive showof which Ive seen five or sixis energetic, full of lyrical improvisation and great stage banter from lead singer Tim Kasher, and set lists that span the bands 15 years of existence. For Cursive fans its amazing to hear the live takes on old favorites from early albums like Storms of Early Summer and new favorites from their most recent album Mama, Im Swollen.
Alkaline Trio is equally energetic and powerful, but their music is of a different ilk. Early albums like Goddamnit, Maybe Ill Catch Fire bring darker pop-punk tunes, while their most recent albums like Agony & Irony and their newest This Addiction have a more upbeat sound. Their shows are loud, and the songs are solid and well rehearsed. They have been a strong presence in the pop-punk, Vagrant scene for nearly 15 yearsa scene that doesnt have much crossover with the self-reflexive, indie aesthetic of the Saddle Creek boys of Cursive.
On the other hand, every time Ive seen Cursive, they have been the headlining band. The only other time Ive heard of them as a supporting act was in 2001, when they were touring in support of Thursday. Since then they have made a name for themselves, gained a sizable crowd, and even performed on The Late Show with David Letterman. So to find them performing in support of Alkaline Trio (who, yes, has also made the late night TV circuit), I was intrigued. The bands would be playing Alkaline Trios hometown, so I understood supporting them here in Chicago. Alkaline Trio has a rabid and large following in the Chicagoland area. Enough where the weekend of two shows at the famed venue The Metroone 18 & over, and one all-agessold out in mere hours.
When I drove by the venue Sunday afternoon around 3:15pm before the second night of shows (the doors didnt open until 6:00pm), there was already a line of 10-15 teens waiting in the cold and rain to get in and get the best spot in the pit they could. It gave me a strong case of nostalgia to see those kids wrapped in blankets, sitting on the cold Chicago sidewalk, eager and excited to see their favorite band up close. I remember being 16.
Now dont get me wrong, I love going to live shows and there is still nothing better than seeing my favorite bands in person. But now at 25, I feel like waiting in line for hours before the show, standing against the front barrier, being a part of a mosh pit, well Im just too old for that shit. This was the all-ages show of the weekend, so I knew I was going to be one of the old dudes in the crowd, which at 25 is semi-depressing.
This may seem like a tangent to the story of the show, and it is slightly, but it also informs how the show went for the evening. Im not just waxing poetic or being a bitter fart.
The opening band for the night was Equal Vision records/Vans Warped Tour artists and Orange Countys own The Dear & Departed. Looking and sounding about what I think a modern Warped Tour band would be, The Dear & Departed played through their 20+ minute set with precision. The band, save for lead singer Dan Smith, remained fairly sedentary, and the audience seemed to follow suit. Smith somewhat pleaded with the audience to do a little more dancing and a little less standing after the first couple of songs, but eventually just settled with head nods and clapping. He thanked the audience for coming out after every song, even though it was really early. They still appreciated our presence. They seemed like rather pleasant kids, and if you enjoy Saves the Day or most anything on Vagrant Records you should check out their newest album Chapters.
After The Dear & Departed finished their set, I noticed the crowd growing steadily in anticipation for the headlining acts. The special sections on the sides of the balcony were growing with what I assumed to be the family and friends of Alkaline Trio coming in from the bands home suburb of McHenry, IL. People were beginning the push forward to the front barrier and I could feel my frustration with mosh pits and crowd surfing begin to bubble. But I swallowed it down and prepared myself for Cursive.
The changeover to Cursive was quick with only a slight sound equipment hang-up. The lights went out and the multi-instrumentalist of Cursive, Patrick Newberry, came on stage, hit a button, and something sounding vaguely like the theme song to Family Ties started playing. Soon after, the rest of the band strolled out on stage and took their places with their instruments. There was no hello, no hi were Cursive, just a wave of lead-singer Tim Kashers hand and the band launched into Ugly Organ opener Some Red Handed Slight of Hand.
And thats about how the rest of the Cursive set went. The stage banter I had grown accustomed to was non-existent. They blazed through song after song with nothing more than a slight bow and hand wave to the crowd. I dont blame the band though. It seemed the young Alkaline Trio crowd didnt quite know how to take songs like Domesticas A Red So Deep or the chaos of Happy Hollows Big Bang.
Their set was a quick 11 songs, and near the end, the audience warmed up a little to them. I dont know if it was due to them understanding kind of how Cursive works, or the enthusiasm of the few fans there to just see Cursive that rubbed off. Overall it was a somewhat awkward performance from a band that is normally full of confidence on stage. Made me wonder if this tour is beginning to weigh on them or if its been weighing on them all along. Either way its a question Im hoping to ask Tim Kasher right away when I interview him this week. Stay tuned for that.
About 25 minutes after Cursive ended their set, Alkaline Trio took the stage to a loud and raucous ovation from the sold-out crowd. The pit had grown substantially and the balcony was at capacity with eager young faces and stalwart fans. Singer/Guitarist Matt Skiba gave an enthusiastic hello to the crowd and just before launching into the title track from their newest album This Addiction, said, Its very good to be home. The crowd erupted and then continued to overflow as the opening chords and cymbal hits landed. The pit instantly started to churn and pulse. Even at my position near the back of the crowd, I was still being pushed and jostled around by people trying to somehow compact the 50 people in front of them into a space reserved for 15.
The enthusiasm of the crowd was overwhelming. While I may not be the biggest fan of Alkaline Trio, the excitement of their fans was a great thing to see. Ill admit that it rubbed off on me a little. I started tapping my foot in the safe hole I had retreated into to escape the numerous crowd surfers being thrownliterally thrownaround the pit. (One poor girl was having her shirt pulled up while some very classy gentlemen were attempting to pull down her pants.) The band appeared to have a great time as they blasted through songs that spanned their whole catalogue; everything from Mr. Chainsaw and Stupid Kid from From Here to Infirmary, to Emma from Good Mourning to songs from the new album like This Addiction and Dine, Dine, My Darling. Its always refreshing to see a band enjoying themselves on stage, and Alkaline Trio was no exception. Performing for a capacity crowd in your hometown is, Id imagine, an amazing thing and it was obviously not wasted on the band. After a long proper set, the band came back on stage for a four song encore which included a Misfits cover and closed with Maybe Ill Catch Fire closer, and crowd favorite, Radio.
Overall, I felt it was an awkward line-up for the show. The crowd was enthusiastic? Yes. Incredibly young? Double yes. But the awkward placement of Cursive on this tour made for an awkward disappointment for Cursive fans. It was sad to see Cursive become just another shitty opening band for kids who just wanted to hear some pop-punk slickness. If I werent such a big Cursive fan, Ill bet I would love the hell out of the show. Alkaline Trio put together a solid set that left the young hometown crowd properly satiated. It just left me feeling well awkward. And old. For someone who lived through the beginning of the pop-punk, Vagrant Records heyday, Im confused as to why it still lives on. But Alkaline Trio has showed me that not only has it lived on, but also it is just as strong as it has been.
Photography by Paul Kastner
Some Red Handed Slight of Hand
Dorthy at Forty
From the Hips
A Red So Deep
Let Me Out
The Great Decay
Art is Hard
Love You Anymore
Alkaline Trio setlist:
Dine, Dine My Darling
We’ve Had Enough
Dead on the floor
Snake Oil Tanker
One Hundred Stories
My Friend Peter
Attitude (Misfits cover)