The spirit of 2001 was alive and well in Milwaukee on Monday night.
As the Milwaukee Bucks were dominating an Eastern Conference foe in an NBA playoff contest, a respectable crowd made its way to Turner Hall Ballroom to be treated to the sounds of mewithoutYou, Cursive, and The Appleseed Cast. While the trio of veteran emo-leaning acts are all best-known for their work at the turn of this young century, each of them have survived side projects, significant lineup shakeups, and continually-changing music trends to not just remain active, but to continue making meaningful and well-received music nearly two decades into the 2000s.
As the final seconds of the Bucks-Celtics game ticked away, opener The Appleseed Cast was also wrapping up their set, a brief-but-brilliant visitation of the legendary outfit’s atmospheric and emotional discography that spans from 1998’s debut, The End Of The Ring Wars, to 2013’s Illumination Ritual. After singer-guitarist Christopher Crisci said “that’s all we have,” the band departed and made way for another legendary Midwestern emo outfit.
Less than a year removed from putting out Vitriola—the band’s first album in more than five years and a refreshing return to its early-aughts form—last fall, Cursive delighted listeners by starting off with “Sierra.” They chased the celebrated offering from 2003’s lauded concept record, The Ugly Organ, with “The Martyr” from 2000 masterpiece Domestica, before transporting Turner Hall all the way to 2012 with “The Sun And Moon” from I Am Gemini. With the audience (much of which had converged near the base of the stage) already won over with established fan favorites in the early-going, bandleader Tim Kasher and company worked a few of the best Vitriola numbers into the middle of the set, including a “Free To Be Or Not To Be You And Me” and “It’s Gonna Hurt” one-two punch, as well as the socially-pointed likes of “Pick Up The Pieces” and “Life Savings.”
The bandleader and his counterparts—a cellist and trumpet player among them—were energetic and gracious guests throughout, playing lively and true-to-album takes from various points of their discography, such as “The Great Decay” from Burst And Bloom, four Ugly Organ ditties (yes, they did “Art Is Hard”), and a special treat for diehards in the form of 20-year-old deep cut “The Radiator Hums.”
Along the way, Kasher commented on how long they’ve known The Appleseed Cast, saying without a hint of exaggeration that Cursive has been playing with them for longer than some people in attendance have been alive, and he repeatedly thanked the enthusiastic—at least by emo listener standards—audience for giving him the best Monday night he could imagine “unless The Bachelor or The Bachelorette are on.” Before calling it a day, Cursive left in particularly strong fashion with a memorable version of “From The Hips” that cemented the performance as the set of the night.
After watching Cursive destroy, the decision to have mewithoutYou headline the tour seemed even more perplexing. It seemed like a faction of Turner Hall shared that feeling, as the ballroom was noticeably more empty by the time the top-billed act came to the stage to play. Undeterred, the band bounced all around their massive catalog (seven albums and four EPs), much to the delight of the patchwork group of dancing and transfixed devotees who hung around to watch. Though half of the 16-song set came from last year’s [Untitled] album and 2015’s Pale Horses, mewithoutYou balanced it out with sustained stops at earlier releases like Brother, Sister and Catch For Us The Foxes, as well as exactly one song from Ten Stories.
As the band provided a dour aural backing of dreamlike instrumentation, vocalist Aaron Weiss twirled liberally and wandered the stage, he tugged at his loose cardigan, and alternated between two microphones with differing vocal effects. Sometimes, he hid behind an amp between songs. Other times, he’d emerge with an acoustic guitar to play along. During one song, he performed whilst sitting cross-legged on the stage. Throughout the performance, he’d reposition the microphone stands to different spots on the stage, lending visual corroboration to the feelings of angst and unrest that seem to permeate many of the songs the band played over the course of the 70-minute set.
After playing “In A Sweater Poorly Knit” and thanking the crowd in a rare moment of audience interaction, mewithoutYou departed. Minutes later, Weiss came out clutching an acoustic guitar to lead the remaining audience members in a stripped-down version of default hit “The Fox, The Crow And The Cookie” that proved to be an innocent, upbeat ending to an emotional evening that was, all-told, just as enjoyable in 2019 as it would’ve been almost 20 years earlier.