Hailing as high-school bandmates from Staten Island, as Cymbals Eat Guitars finished out their set I couldn’t help think how very much they looked like high school bandmates (Staten Island being a disputable factor). The blue lights that doused them onstage at Lincoln Hall on Sunday night were such an intense blue, they looked like some indie-punk form of Blue Man Group. The lights switched to green, they became Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The stage, packed with headliner Cursive’s equipment, pushed the quartet to the edge, making their available space small and uneasy to thrash around in, although front man Joseph D’Agostino let loose a little towards the end. So they remained quite still. I didn’t blame them. It certainly wasn’t any similar experience to listening, through headphones and with studio-recorded quality, to the group’s raucous swells of rock. It had felt like I had nylon over my ears.
Before winding down the set, as the band retuned and readjusted for the final couple of songs, all was quiet until some girl in the crowd called out (in a rather valley intonation, mind you): “You’re the reason I came here!” Maybe she was pretty drunk (plenty of people were loading, slowly, for Cursive) and truly meant what she said. Or maybe she was just an insensitive attention-grabber looking to take advantage of a) her alcohol consumption, and/or b) the silence, and/or c) a crowd surrounding her. I laughed to myself as D’Agostino spoke into the mic: “OK. Maybe we’ll play two more then.” And they did. And they gave it their last reserves of energy until they were off a little before 9:30.
At 10, all went quiet as the lighting cued the sold-out house that the big act of the night is about to come on. A mellow instrumental piece hummed and motioned through various electronic pitches, sounding reminiscent of “Staying Alive.” They finally took the stage: Matt Maginn on bass, Ted Stevens on guitar and backup vocals, Cully Symington on drums, Patrick Newbery on the trumpet and keyboard, and of course lead guitarist and vocalist, Tim Kasher. Everyone applauded and it seemed a tad too formal. Excited, no doubt, but tame.
They opened their set with “I Am Gemini,” off their same-titled new record released in February through trusty Saddle Creek. As soon as they took the stage I noticed Kasher had a thermos next to the mic stand. Water bottles for everyone, sure, but when was the last time you saw a thermos onstage? The days of red plastic cups have given way to a more mature, less crunked-out demeanor I suppose.
As they played “A Gentleman Caller” I could clearly hear the radio transistor waves crackling over the speakers – I can’t speak for where everyone stood in Lincoln Hall that night, but I know from where I was it added extra pleasure. As Kasher’s voice rang out clear and loud, through every pondering word and crooning yelp, I realized that this crowd wasn’t just there to sing the songs, but to rejoice in Kasher’s cynical humor, laughing at existentialism, religion, and lovers.
Stevens picked up the vocals for “A Red So Deep,” launching the crowd’s participation. You could hear a growing whisper in the house as everyone lulled the last verse to themselves, to each other, back to the stage, before the band ended it in the anticipated mess.
And finally he spoke. Before the eighth song of the night, “Driftwood.” His words: “What a nice night.” And back to the music.
Later, after having finished “The Martyr” and doling out his thanks to the openers and all the lovely Chicagoans for coming out to the show, Kasher almost seems like a Stepford Wife of Conformed Rock. Recalling my earlier feelings of formality, here he was complimenting the crowd with swaths of “oh my goodness,” “real pleasure for us,” “you all seem so nice” – and even apologizing that it was a Sunday night. He admitted to having dressed up for the occasion.
And then, if things didn’t seem too in-line for you, Kasher went out of line. And told us a story about his penis.
Yes, you wish you were there.
After advising his sister, who was in the house, to cover her ears, Kasher relayed a story of when he was 14 years old. He was dating a girl. “A pretty hot girl.” Naturally he was excited. But, he said, people were whispering to him things like…“She’s kind of a skank.” Well let the goodness in Tim Kasher’s heart shine because he figured he would “give her a chance.” Ladies can rejoice in Kasher’s reasoning of a guy making out with multiple chicks becoming a “stud” and a gal doing the same and becoming a “skank.” So he gave his skank-maybe girlfriend a chance.
And so: “I make out with her, I’m pretty young… and she puts her hand down my pants.” Whoa, baby! This is new, and if she wants to, well…Tim wasn’t about to stop her, I mean, she wanted to do this, so ok, she touched his penis. Happy all around. Great hot girlfriend touched his penis. “I breakup with her a week later because I’m fucking fourteen.” And now she’s that ex-girlfriend (of about three weeks) who was a hot skank who touched his penis.
So then one day, a little while later, Tim found himself looking in an encyclopedia to figure something out. And he figured out something bad. “I had a shanker on my penis.” (NOTE: shankers are the beginning lesions of syphilis.) To make matters worse, “it would pop and it was puss-y.” (NOTE: that is puss-y, as in pus, not as in pussy. This is verbatim.)