Indie-rock veterans Cursive return to Philadelphia

Lauren McCarthy

One year ago, Omaha-based rock band Cursive embarked on a small, short and sold-out tour of the United States. 

Traveling in preparation for the release of March 2009’s “Mama, I’m Swollen,” Cursive treated fans to old favorites, as well as introducing them to new material. The tour ended with a secret show at one of Philadelphia’s most popular venues, the Barbary. 

Announced at 3 on a Wednesday morning,  the show sold out in minutes and gave 150 lucky fans an intimate concert experience. 

Since then, over the course of the past year, “Mama, I’m Swollen” saw its formal release meet with resoundingly positive reviews, as critics and fans alike praised the album for its strong, rock-driven melodies and confessional lyrics.

 To support the album, the band, consisting of vocalist Tim Kasher, guitarist Ted Stevens, bassist Matt Maginn and drummer Cully Symington, embarked on an extended tour, hitting big cities in the spring and smaller venues in the summer.  Tonight the band will return to Philadelphia to play a show at the Trocadero. 

However, there will be one critical difference:  they are billed as the opening act.

What exactly makes a band decide to give up sold-out headlining shows in favor of playing for a crowd who might not even be there to hear you? 

“We got the offer and it seemed like a cool thing, so we decided to accept,” guitarist Ted Stevens says. 

That offer was for the opening slot on Alkaline Trio’s “This Addiction” tour, in support of the Illinois punk band’s seventh album of the same name, released on Feb. 23. 

As fans of Alkaline Trio, Cursive decided that this offer was a great opportunity to shake things up. 

“We’ve been doing a lot of headlining dates, and it’s a whole other ballgame to do this tour as supporting,” Stevens says. 

While the band has been enjoying this change of pace, taking a backseat on the tour has presented a few obstacles.

“We’re playing to a crowd that may not know us in some cities, so I feel like we’re playing to that challenge some nights,” Stevens says. 

 However, with 15 years on the indie-rock scene under its belt, the band is guaranteed some dedicated fans each night, who show up just to hear the opening band.

“We tend to have a small number  of enthusiastic fans every night in the crowd,” Steven says. “It’s impossible to tell, from where I’m at, what their reactions are, but I think that they’re liking it. We’ll play stuff from 2003, and I’ll see a few smiles.”  

A major problem that arises from taking on the role of opening act is time; while headliners typically play for around two hours, opening bands are usually allotted just 30 minutes to perform. 

With a band as established as Cursive, with six successful albums to their name, the dilemma becomes picking which 10 or so songs to play in this short amount of time. 

Variety is key in the band’s decision, with the timeline of their songs trailing all the way from 2000’s “Domestica” to last spring’s “Mama, I’m Swollen.” 

While Stevens admits that he prefers to play the new songs, old hits are not forgotten. 

 The band switches up the setlist every night, but favorites “Dorothy at Forty,” off 2007’s “Happy Hollow,” and “The Recluse,” off 2003’s “The Ugly Organ,” are often included, to a favorable crowd reaction.

The band has even been including the lesser known song, “Mothership, Mothership Do You Read Me?” from 2001’s “Burst and Bloom,” to ensure that the audience, and they themselves, stay on their toes from start to finish. 

A brand new song to be added to the setlist is “Discovering America,” a standalone single digitally released by the band on Tuesday. Concentrating lyrically on the exploitation of the American-Indian community, the profits of the song will go to the American-Indian College Fund.

 “It’s a really odd song,” Stevens says.”It’s just a really bizarre number. It didn’t fit in to the last record, which is why it’s being released alone.”

 Stevens looks forward to playing at the Trocadero, as Philadelphia has a long history with the band. 

“I came through a long time ago and played the South Street Grill when I was 20 years old, and it was a total blast,” Stevens says. “I came back with Cursive a few years later and we played the upper level of the Troc. We’ve also hit the First Unitarian Church a few times, and it’s always a good show.” 

As veterans of the indie-rock scene, and Philadelphia, Cursive is sure not to disappoint as it takes on the opening slot tonight. 

In the time it would take to watch a bad 30-minute sitcom, Cursive intends to play into your nostalgia, win you over with new songs and, most importantly, play a good rock show.