Cursive with Make Believe and La Salle
Thursday · Southgate House
Keeping track of Cursive's elastic personnel and extensive discography is like tracing a 12-generation Mormon genealogy. The Omaha, Neb.-based band began over a decade ago as a natural progression from friendships and previous working relationships, leading to The Disruption, their four-song debut 7-inch on the soon-to-be-renowned Saddle Creek label.
Cursive's spiky guitar inventions (courtesy of frontman Tim Kasher and original guitarist Stephen Pederson) and hammer-and-tong rhythm section (bassist Matt Maginn, drummer Clint Schnase) were evident from the start and became their signature sound on subsequent singles and the band's 1997 full length CD, Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes. The following year saw the release of more singles and Cursive's sophomore album, the semi-conceptual and sonically heavier Early Summer: Semantics of Song. As the acclaim rolled in, Kasher's personal life was in shambles and the band's stability suffered similarly, as Cursive dissolved into a series of new bands (Pederson went back to school, then formed The White Octave and Criteria) and interim dabblings with Bright Eyes and Commander Venus. The band was reanimated two years later with the addition of former Lullaby for the Working Class guitarist Ted Stevens and the release of 2000's Domestica, another quasi-concept piece about a couple's fragmented life, seemingly mirroring Kasher's difficulties.
The following year, Kasher debuted his solo project The Good Life, which has eclipsed Cursive in volume of work since its inception, as has Stevens' side project Mayday; each have released three albums over the past six years. In 2001, Cursive added cellist Gretta Cohn and released the moody Burst & Bloom EP, followed two years later by their most critically well-received and expansive album to date, The Ugly Organ. Last year, Cohn departed for a solo career and Cursive released The Difference Between Houses and Homes, a collection of out-of-print singles and rarities. Next month, Cursive will finally release the fruits of their most recent labor, Happy Hollow, an album that answers Cohn's departure with the deletion of strings and the addition of horns through brass arranger Nate Wolcott.
Early reports count the album among Cursive's best, a lofty claim considering the band's amazing output so far. (Brian Baker)
Puffy AmiYumi with Tally Hall
Friday · Bogart's
A little over a decade ago, Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura separately began haunting Tokyo talent searches when they were thrown together by Sony execs looking to Monkee together a girl group. The following year, the duo, dubbed Puffy, screamed to the top of the Japanese charts with the infectious "Asia No Junshin," and they've dominated the charts there ever since.
After recording a few hit albums (all co-written, produced and overseen by former Jellyfish singer/drummer Andy Sturmer) and scoring their own weekly variety TV series, Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa Puffy, the duo hit American shores. Their debut at the 2000 South By Southwest created a sensation and attracted the legal attention of Sean "P Diddy Puff Daddy Puffy" Combs, resulting in the pair's rechristening as Puffy AmiYumi in this hemisphere. The duo's first album here, 2002's An Illustrated History of Puffy AmiYumi, showed their broad range of musical interests, encompassing Beatlesque Pop, Disco, Hip Hop, Punk and basically any style designed to catch an ear and move an ass.
Puffy AmiYumi might well have remained a cult item in the States if not for the intervention of Cartoon Network exec Sam Register, who saw the pair in concert and envisioned an animated series with the girls as the stars (they'd already provided the theme for the network's Teen Titans series). Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi debuted at the end of 2004 and became an immediate hit with the under-12 set, but the show's toddler-to-tween success hasn't distracted the girls from their musical pursuits.
Puffy AmiYumi's latest CD, Splurge (set for a July 25 release), is another typically brilliant pastiche of styles, a sonic scrapbook that shows their mastery in all genres, from Mott the Hoople guitar Rock of "Radio Tokyo" and the Petula Clark '60s Brit Pop of "Missing You Baby" to the New Wave Farfisa jaunt of "Etude" and the Iggy Pop-on-a-sugar-buzz swing of "Mole-Like." If you don't like a Puffy AmiYumi song, wait a couple of minutes and it will morph into something else entirely. Of course, if you don't love everything about Puffy AmiYumi, you probably have a pet name for the stick in your butt. As the girls like to say, "Peace Love Pop." And as the Banana Splits once advised, dig it or go home. (BB)
Rock Kills Kid with Yellowcard, Matchbook Romance and Hedley
Tuesday · Bogart's
It's an overwrought and overworked cliché to say that Rock & Roll saved a musician's life, but it certainly comes close to a literal application in Jeff Tucker's case. The guitarist/vocalist and songwriter for Rock Kills Kid didn't suffer from any of the standard ills that plague the hyper-creative, namely numbing his acute senses with drugs or alcohol. In fact, he wasn't doing anything with anyone.
A social outcast, Tucker's isolation made it almost impossible for him to operate outside of his home, recreationally or professionally. He began playing guitar at age 16 and, after failed work gigs, found the resolve to connect with some area Punk bands and try his hand at songwriting. A demo with one of them garnered the band, christened Rock Kills Kid, a contract with Fearless Records, who released RKK's eponymous five-song EP in 2001. Although the disc sold well, the band's lack of touring caused sales to stall.
Tucker, jobless and homeless, wound up squatting at the Los Angeles studio where Fearless was footing the bill. Ensconced in a musical atmosphere (albeit an illegal one; the studio had no shower and wasn't zoned for residents) and trading his teenage isolation for the adult variety, Tucker holed up in the studio and wrote songs to exorcise the demons of his seclusion. By 2003, he'd written nearly 150 songs and Rock Kills Kid finally settled on a stable line-up — Bright Life bassist Shawn Dailey and keyboardist Reed Calhoun, Stairwell guitarist Sean Stopnik and drummer Ian Hendrickson. The quintet began breathing life into Tucker's dark internal explorations, infusing them with the nervously angular guitar lines and punchy synth textures of '70s New Wave/Pop Punk. The band started generating a buzz again and, in the midst of recording their full length debut, Are You Nervous?, signed with Reprise Records. Since its release, Are You Nervous? has generated comparisons to everyone from The Cure and U2 to contemporary purveyors of the same dark groove like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand and Interpol.
Rock Kills Kid's ace in the hole is Tucker's harrowing songwriting ability. When he sings, "No friends, nothing to do/No start, no end, stuck in the middle/ Of all these games, running around in an empty room/ Bumping into the cold brick walls," within the claustrophobic clockwork pulse of "Midnight," it's clear the lyrics were born from that desperate isolation and not manufactured by some wonk posing as a loner to accentuate his art. That reality informs Rock Kills Kid's bleak, groove-ridden heart and humanity. (BB)