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Monday, March 31, 2014

Tim Kasher @ Milwaukee Opry

March 30, 2014

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Photo credit: Justin Markert
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Tim Kasher has never recorded a concept album where he literally sleeps with his mother, kills his father then blinds himself, but he's come pretty damn close at least two or three times. Unfolding over volumes of records with Cursive, The Good Life and most recently under his own name, Kasher's vast discography plays like Freud's most elaborate case studies ever. Each record is loaded with Oedipal anxiety, id/ego conflicts, latent impulses and libidinous confessions, but there's one Freudian theory that defines his discography even more than all that sex stuff: repetition compulsion.

For those not versed in psychoanalytical deep cuts, repetition compulsion is one of Freud's less fleshed out theories, yet also one of his most prescient. He arrived at it late in his career and revised it several times before his death, but the gist is this: Humans have a tendency to repeat themselves, even when those repeated behaviors are self destructive. Freud initially noticed this pattern in trauma survivors, but gradually he and his successors realized the drive was almost universal. On a macro level, it accounts for why people make the same mistakes over and over again, and on a very micro level, why Timothy J. Kasher is still writing records about interpersonal dysfunction 14 years after he effectively eulogized his first marriage on Cursive's breakthrough album Domestica.

"Hot off the press, and this guy sounds depressed, again,” Kasher sang on The Good Life's “For The Sake of the Song,” one of the many rarities he pulled from the bottom corners of his songbook Sunday night at a scenic Milwaukee loft as part of his spring living room tour. That song came out in 2004, and in the decade since Kasher has written about his unhappiness (and skewered himself for that unhappiness) more times than even he can count. Sometimes he's fretting about empty sex; other times he's longing for empty sex when he's trapped in a committed relationship, but the constant is his disappointment. In song, at least, it's all he knows.

The cold reception to Kasher's latest album, last fall's Adult Film, suggests that Kasher may have finally milked the last drop out of that muse, but as his lengthy solo set Sunday attested, it was a mighty fruitful muse for a time. Assisted by utility player Patrick Newbery on keyboards, drums and trumpet, Kasher revisited some under-celebrated highlights from his Good Life records, including the break-up play by plays “Album of the Year” and “Inmates,” as well as quickies from his mischievously poppy solo debut The Game of Monogamy.

The night was all about fan service, with Kasher gamely stretching the set thin to accommodate requests, but even the crowd of his most dedicated fans was more interested in hearing Cursive songs than the Good Life and solo material this living room tour was ostensibly about. The room cheered so loud when Kasher announced he'd do a couple of Cursive songs that it was hard not to feel bad for the dozen or so songs he'd played beforehand, and later the room shouted requests for Cursive songs that would be all but impossible to perform acoustically (Kasher even played a few barren chords of “Art is Hard” to illustrate why that one just doesn't work with what he called “sleepy-time” solo arrangements).

Much as it was a treat to spend so much time with such an influential musician, especially in such an intimate setting without clattering bottles and slamming cash registers and other interfering bar noises, Kasher's long set illustrated just how badly his songwriting has repeated itself over the years. Even for diehard fans, an hour and a half is long time to spend with songs almost exclusively pointing fingers at exes or apologizing to lovers sucked into his orbit of unhappiness. For better or worse, disappointment is Kasher's brand, and as he's made clear on his recent solo albums, that seems unlikely to change as he nears the grim milestone of 40. What might middle age hold in store for this indie-rock lifer? If history or a rudimentary knowledge of Freud is any indication, more of the same.