words and photo by Dan Scheuerman
Justin Wallin has seen Cursive play more times than he can count, including all three nights of their recent residency at the Waiting Room. He’s a superfan. Monday night was for him.
On Monday, Tim Kasher played a solo acoustic show at Sirens at the Loft, a hair-salon-turned-venue for the night, as part of his Living Room tour.
The location was secret until you bought a ticket, meaning only 75 people knew where the show was. To get one, you had to be quick. You kind of had to be a superfan.
Wallin, a young musician in flannel and Elliott Smith tattoo who plays loops under the name Saltwater Sanctuary, got his 30 minutes after they went on sale, following an announcement on Kasher’s Facebook page. When he pressed “buy,” he said, they were more than half soldout.
Not knowing anything about the show beforehand, I expected an insular scenester gathering. The idea of a “Tim Kasher Living Room Show,” as it was billed, brought up, for me, a flood of memories from punk houses in DC. There, cool kids with red Solo cups would crowd right up to the feet of the musician, threatening to spill beer on his pedal board. Everyone there knew who’s house it was, and if someone at the show looked like he had a job, he stuck out.
Monday’s show didn’t have that kind of intimacy. Sirens at the Loft is big and comfortable. The crowd — an equal mix of 20- and 30-something men and women — arranged itself in a respectful arc. Ten or 12 leather couches were set up, which seated about half the audience. The rest stood against the back wall.
The sound was fine, the audience was warm enough, but there was something missing — some sort of glue. It didn’t feel like a person’s living room, probably because it wasn’t. It was just a show with couches — with the notable exception that it was BYOB. Either way, I couldn’t help but think it would have been more intimate if those 75 people had packed into O’Leaver’s for the show.
So there we all were, having our private conversations, sitting in couches or standing, when 8 p.m. struck and Kasher walked in. Without any change in lighting or to the non-existent house music, and without an opener or an introduction, he just walked over to where the drums, guitar, keyboard and PA speaker were set up and started talking. He asked if everyone was here — “Should we do a quick headcount?” It was almost like a seminar was starting.
That was the mood of the night — everything about the show was eerily normal and unshowmanlike. Kasher stood in the track lighting of the spa, between racks of shampoo and conditioner, in his khaki shirt and pants, looking like anyone else in the place, and played his songs. He was funny and appreciative, but mostly, he was a human being.
I sometimes wonder what Kasher “means” in Omaha. Is he a rock god, or is he just a local dude? On one hand, more people recognize him here than anywhere else. On the other, he grew up here and is a common sight. If people recognize him, it’s more likely he recognizes them back. Maybe their parents know each other. Maybe he went to their wedding.
Monday night, Kasher came down resolutely on the local dude side. The songs were stripped down to mostly just an acoustic guitar. Occasionally multi-instrumentalist Patrick Newberry, who played prominently on Kasher’s Adult Film and the subsequent national tour, came in on synth or drums. Occasionally Kasher switched to piano. For one song, he played drums.
The songs took the form they must have had when he first wrote them, in a studio in Council Bluffs, or in an Emerald Bay apartment, on a bed, with an acoustic, before the other members of Cursive or The Good Life added layers of muscle and awe.
In that way, the show was intimate. We saw Kasher, the dude, in a clean shirt and in unflattering lighting.
The audience members I spoke to were all very happy with the show, which consisted of a lot of songs off Kasher’s new solo album, and a bunch of old songs that had been requested on his Facebook page. The old songs tended to skew slow, and in the ears of a non-superfan such as myself, I’ll be honest, I felt a little disconnected.
Give or take, Kasher mainly writes two types of song: songs about the inevitability of heartbreak; and songs about being an artist. Both have resulted in some of my favorite songs ever. “Album of the Year” and “What Have I Done” both crush me every single time. But in relentless succession, and absent the dynamics of a band — left face-to-face with just the words and the man — I felt something closer to pity than catharsis.
I don’t think any artist writes sad songs for your pity. They write sad songs, maybe, because in recognizing another’s suffering, we feel like a part of something larger. We feel sad together, and it makes us — not happy — maybe it just makes us feel like human beings.
This was not the feeling I got. The uncut gloom of the set got heavier as it went on, and it started to feel lonely.
The experience of the fans I talked to was different. They weren’t hearing just Kasher. Their memories of the full-band versions superimposed themselves over the experience. Several people told me after show that when Kasher played, they were also hearing the whole band. During long, strummy vamps, they were hearing the missing trumpet solo.
There were moments when what was added shone brighter than what was missing. Kasher’s shredding acoustic guitar solo on “American Lit” got people cheering. The narrative bite of songs like “Rabbit, Run” and “Sierra” came through in merciless clarity, closer to novels than poetry. “Recluse,” with its eerie blend of synth and Wurlitzer, sounded like a band, and shed new light on an already great song. And the closer, “What Have I Done,” was devastating. He knew it before he started.
After having invited the audience to O’Leaver’s for an afterparty, he thought again. “You might not want to go to O’Leaver’s after hearing this [song]. You might want to go lift weights or read a good book.”
The self-destruction, the honesty, the loneliness, all of it came through brutally in the slow, deliberate dirge of “What Have I Done.” Kasher lost himself at the end, doubled over his guitar, hammering on and off an F chord. This was the peak of the show, and the one moment where it seemed even remotely sweaty, where the audience wasn’t watching a guy, but just being sublimated by a feeling.
“A Raincloud is a Raincloud”
“You Scare Me to Death”
“A Golden Exit”
“Truly Freaking Out”
“Album of the Year”
“The Radiator Hums”
“Bad, Bad Dreams”
“Rest Your Head”
“The Beaten Path”
“What Have I Done”