. : : May 17th, 2005 : : .
You know that album that you hear at just the right time in your life? The one that hits you in the feels every song, from top to bottom? The one that you listen to obsessively for weeks / months on end, almost exclusively?
There’s been a few of those for me, but one of the biggest was 2004’s Album of the Year by The Good Life.
The Good Life is often diminutively noted as Cursive‘s front man, Tim Kasher‘s side project. One where, for the first two albums, he explored with keyboards and drum samples; lo-fi productions that sound like they were recorded intimately in bedrooms, whispered so as to not wake a roommate or neighbour. A sharp contrast to the angular, aggressive emo of his other band.
But the band’s third album took a hard turn into folksy Americana. Album of the Year is a play on popular phrasing — rather than an award or accolade, it’s accounting for a year of an all encompassing and then self-destructing romantic relationship.
The subject is not exactly new territory for Kasher; Cursive’s Domestica is famously the only-slightly fictionalized story of his divorce, released four years earlier. But the years between seem to have opened him up to a more balanced, reflexive view that replaced anger with regret.
It’s a different sort of intimacy than the band that released Novena on a Nocturn in 2000 (the same year as Domestica — Kasher is nothing if not verbose!). It’s also polished and fill of the Americana flourishes that producer Mike Mogis is familiar with; he’d previously found success with similar touches in his own band, Bright Eyes’ Lifted… Or the Story Is In The Soil.
I found the album a bit too late to catch the band’s initial tour date at the Horseshoe Tavern (likely, I was out of town for school), but they were kind enough to swing back for a performance at the Horseshoe’s neighboring little sister venue, the now-defunct 360.
I went with my faithful, consistent concert-buddy, who had turned me onto the band and was the taper who got me into the hobby. My memory of this night was that, coming from the east end of the city, we were a bit late. We got to the venue after the openers, and maybe ten minutes before The Good Life would take the stage.
We noticed drummer Roger Lewis in rapt conversation with a friend or two some 15 feet away from us as we debated whether or not we wanted to interrupt to ask if the band would be okay if we got a soundboard patch to record. Time was wasting, the opening we waited for wasn’t coming, and so we asked the sound engineer for a hook up.
“Did the band give you the OK?” I seem to remember him asking. “Yes,” we lied, thinking it would be easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Of course, that could be my brain retroactively adding drama where none needed to be; it’s possible he just shrugged and said “Sure,” and plugged us in.
I do remember the band starting mere seconds later, and making our way up front for a better view.
Tim Kasher fans probably know what I learned that day: his performances are generally loose, booze soaked drunken sermons that betray the polish of the albums but give the live versions of the songs a sense of gritty urgency; a revelation of the emotional core with unbridled honesty.
This recording is unique insofar as it’s one of very few full set live recordings of the band, but also lacks lead guitarist Ryan Fox, who had briefly left the tour following the death of a grandparent. Although difficult to confirm, I believe it likely that this contributes to a set of songs that differ notably from other dates on the tour.
Add to the mix that members of Bright Eyes, including Conor Oberst, were in the crowd that night (in town for their own set the next night at a much, much, much bigger venue), and Tim previewed two songs from the Help Wanted Nights album that wouldn’t be released until September 2007.
The performance was fantastic; deep cuts, b-sides, and an epic 10-minute track peppered the too-short-at-any-length set, and the looseness of the performance and tiny scale of venue gave the night a feeling of watching your favourite band play a basement house party.
As a soundboard recording, the quality is fantastic throughout (barring a bit of hiss from volume adjustment in post), but there were some technical malfunctions of the stage equipment that are heard here as well.
This is one of my all time favourite performances, but unfortunately, subsequent tours from the band haven’t crossed the Canada-US border, and I haven’t ever been able to repeat the experience — outside of revisiting this tape, anyway, which is something I’ve done many times in the fifteen years since.
- Black Out
- Lovers Need Lawyers
- Empty Bed
- Some Bullshit Escape
- Album of the Year
- A Golden Exit
- O’Rourkes, 1:20am
- Notes in His Pocket
- The Competition
- You’re Not You
- On A Picket Fence
- Some Tragedy