If I were to compose a list of my top 10 favourite albums ever, Cursive’s The Ugly Organ would undoubtedly make the cut. A decade ago I fell in love with its dynamically moody instrumentation and poignantly clever lyrics, guided throughout by a cello’s haunting undertones. When my wife and I discovered the band would be touring in support of the record’s reissue, we decided we must make it to their stop in Washington on Feb. 14. Why not spend our Valentine’s Day together at a concert moored in themes of dejection and self-loathing?
Seattle was warm and bright when we arrived that Saturday morning. We enjoyed a seaside lunch at Pike Place Market while the sun burned bright above the ocean, followed by a shared coffee press at the original Starbucks. Next to be split between us was a bottle of Almond Roca Cream in front of our 19th floor hotel room window while we watched the sun set on the city. An evening stroll then led to dinner at Six Arms, and more Starbucks coffee at the company’s impressive Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room. By then the show was soon to begin. With caffeine and anticipation fuelling our excitement, we arrived at Neumos ready and eager to rock out.
Hometown act Slow Bird kicked things off with a collection of mellow yet grandiose songs. Their atmospheric style seemed perfectly designed for the intimate environment provided by the venue, having a surprisingly large sound for just a trio of musicians. The band’s performance was virtually flawless, and a slight vocal stumble at the start of their set closer, Sea Salt, was more than made up for by the song’s gradually building, emotional climax.
The moving opener was followed by an upbeat round of jams from Beach Slang, whose brand reflected earlier decades of punk rock with lyrics that could be anthems of feeling young and alive. The vocal levels did seem a bit subdued throughout, but perhaps this was merely a positional acoustic phenomenon caused by our side stage vantage. Regardless, the band delivered every verse and chorus with energetic sincerity, building on the passionate tone set by their predecessor. That vibe carried forth to the night’s main attraction.
Cursive’s entrance was punctuated by the frenetic notes of the featured album’s title instrument as the band members took their respective places on stage. From the introduction they launched into the first few songs of The Ugly Organ, affording me the opportunity to shout “Oh Cursive you’re so cool!” during the bridge of Art Is Hard. They proceeded to play the rest of the album in order, with a few other hits from their catalogue interspersed between. Their recital exuded supreme talent, enthusiasm, and even a bit of holiday spirit with a pink-shirted Tim Kasher occasionally pausing to toss flowers or candy into the audience.
The band seemed to be having a good time and the crowd absolutely was, with people singing along to every lyric. The one person who got to experience the best of both roles, however, was the cellist for the tour. At times she fit in as though a full-fledged member of the band, executing each stroke of her bow with ardent precision on every song from The Ugly Organ. During the intervening medleys she was like any of the fans in the audience, dancing and banging her head beside the stage. I could not help but do the same until the final, stirring choral moments of Staying Alive.
The only mild detraction from our total enjoyment of the evening was a sudden illness that befell each of us at separate times during the concert. Despite this we were able to appreciate every inspirational instant of Cursive and the supporting bands. The concert had been a nostalgic blast that left us smiling, and by the end of the night the worst of our sickness was over.
Do do, do do, do do, do do. The worst was over.
– Cory Magnus Stumpf