Cursive at O’Leaver’s Fest 2016: Beer, Midwestern Emo, and Nebraska Politics

Danielle Corcione

There’s something special about seeing your favorite band in a tiny bar in their hometown. On Sunday, September 25th, I saw Cursive perform at O’Leaver’s Pub, located in Omaha, Nebraska–where the band got its start. While the pub is home to many bands off Saddle Creek Records, the first thing you notice are the records covering the walls: Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Michael Jackson, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, etc.

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Four years ago, I saw Cursive for the first time in Best Buy Theater with a capacity of 2,100 in Times Square. The O’Leaver’s experience is as different as you’d expect. In between songs, frontman Tim Kasher talked to the crowd, only inches away from his microphone, as if he were talking to his closest friends and family. Coincidentally, his parents also sat in front of me.

It was day three of the annual O’Leaver’s Fest to celebrate the local indie rock scene, following the Saddle Creek Records’ emo legacy. Melodic grunge Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship and Silversphere, a new project from the Lepers, opened.

During the performance, I enjoyed a glass of Happy Hollow, Lincoln-based Zipline Brewing’s new limited edition flavor. The name honored the ten-year anniversary of Cursive’s fifth studio album, Happy Hollow, release on August 22nd, according to Hear Nebraska.

O’Leaver’s is located off Saddle Creek Road in the Dundee-Happy Hollow district, dubbed as Omaha’s first suburb. The Reader reports the band bought and took over O’Leaver’s four years ago. Additionally, a mile down the road is Pageturners Lounge, a literary bar co-owned by Conor Oberst, which also opened in 2012, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Both venues helped shape what the Omaha’s music scene is today.

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Many locals understand the Happy Hollow neighborhood as the home of Warren Buffett and those that can afford to live next to him, a theme that plays a key role in the entire album. According to TIME, Buffet’s across-the-street neighbors listed their home in 2015 for over $2 million.

The band opened with “Big Bang,” the third track off Happy Hallow. The lyrics resemble the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis: They say there was this big bang once, but the clergyman doesn’t agree, oh no / There was this big bang once, but it don’t jive with Adam and Eve / Original sin, idyllic garden / Some talking snake giving apples away / What would that snake say if he could only see us today?

On Sunday night, Kasher swapped “Adam and Eve” from the original recordings to “Adam and Steve.” Christianity continues in “Rise Up! Rise Up!” from Happy Hollow, as well as “The Martyr” and “A Red So Deep” from Domestica, which the band also played.

“Dorothy At Forty” reflects a similar political message towards a visual depiction of the American Dream with a less obvious religious theme: (More!) More square inches / (More!) Picket fences /  (More!) Clothes on the line / (More!) Naps at noontime / More of our fair share

That night was also the night before the first presidential debate of the election season between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Kasher didn’t let the audience forget the influence of his lyrics and likewise, urged the crowd to vote for Clinton.

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“I know I’m speaking to a Democratic crowd,” he added, “except for my parents.” From that sentiment, it’s unlikely the frontman spoke to Trump supporters, but perhaps protest voters instead.

There’s been plenty of opposition towards third parties, especially the Green and Libertarian parties, recently, but the debate becomes even more complicated in the Cornhusker state. The last time Nebraska voted Democrat in a presidential election was in 1964 for Lyndon B. Johnson.

The only exception is in 2008 when the state’s five electoral college votes were split between Barack Obama and John McCain, 1 to 4. By law, two electors from the electoral college bases votes off their prospective Congressional districts, rather than the statewide votes at large. Obama gained an electoral vote, instead of none at all, because of the elector based within Omaha’s Congressional district.

Kasher acknowledges the system that keeps conservatives in power, especially when their leadership might not reflect the majority of their constituencies. Nonetheless, he has rarely hesitated towards incorporate his political expressions on stage, being reminded of Happy Hollow’s prominence in set lists even outside of the Midwest.

Omaha-based cellists Hannah Mayer performed with the band as well, which became more significant for songs off The Ugly Organ and EP Burst and Bloom. “Art Is Hard, “The Recluse,” “Sierra,” “A Gentleman Caller,” “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand,” “Am I Not Yours?,” and “Sink to the Beat” were particularly dependent on strings, especially since the original recordings featured cellist Gretta Cohn. She played with the band for four years, according to Punk News, from 2001 to 2005.

Additionally, the band performed “I Couldn’t Love You” and “From the Hips” from Mama, I’m Swollen and “A Disruption in the Normal State of Things” from The Difference of Between Houses and Homes, a compilation of songs recorded from 1995 to 2001.

The band didn’t perform any songs from their most recent record, I Am Gemini–based off “twin brothers separated from birth, one good and the other evil,” according to the Saddle Creek Records. This is likely dependent on the live audience, since Omaha natives will deeply appreciate Cursive’s upbringings in their hometown.

Cursive’s next performance will be at the Sound on Sound Festival on Friday, November 4th in Austin, Texas alongside Beach House, Explosions in the Sky, Purity Ring, Descendants, Thursday, and FIDLAR.

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