The Good Life
Cat’s Cradle Back Room, Carrboro
Saturday, August 29, 2015

It’s always uncomfortable when there’s a “woo guy” in the crowd—you know, the guy who takes the pauses between songs, or even a singer’s quiet moments of reflection, and stuffs his own contribution (most often, a loud, sustained “wooooo”) into the vacant space. After eight years of inactivity so persistent they couldn’t be bothered to break up, The Good Life somehow conjured their own Woo Guy on Saturday night, his chipper, not-so-sober face illuminated by the band’s onstage Christmas lights.

After a short and loud set from Stefanie Drootin’s Big Harp, The Good Life opened with “Everybody,” the first full song from the new Everybody’s Coming Down. It didn’t take long for the notoriously acerbic Tim Kasher to thrust his guitar above his head and indulge a screeching solo. Roger Lewis pounded the cymbals behind him. After the rest of the band eased off, though, Kasher continued to fool around with his guitar. The audience grew increasingly unsure as to whether or not the new song was technically over. Sporadic pockets of clapping fizzled out quickly, and a man named Hank chimed in and said it was his birthday. Woo Guy yelped. Everyone seemed confused.

Kasher celebrated his 40th birthday last year, and in an outburst of mid-life production, the songwriter joined Conor Oberst on a new Desaparecidos single, reissued four albums, toured with Cursive and rebooted The Good Life. The band’s fifth album came out August 14, though on Saturday night, it was clear that it’s still a batch of songs nobody knows quite yet. Like a pinball, the band bounced between those new songs and those from 2004’s Album of the Year, the old ones hitting on target and eliciting cheers of delight, the new tunes clunking through and falling flat, no matter how much energy the players devoted to keeping them afloat.

Halfway through the band’s set, Kasher seemed to catch on. After churning through the minute-and-a-half crunch of “Holy Shit,” he announced that it was too much effort to play such a short song from a new record. “It exhausts me, and I resent it,” he spat. Then, in a desperate attempt to drum up energy, Kasher and Drootin began bouncing into each other on stage, jokingly participating in an awkward, two-person moshpit.

The energy in the room remained static. During the heavy, straight beats of “Lovers Need Lawyers,” Kasher gnawed persistently on a wad of gum, and by the time the band played “The Troubadour’s Green Room,” a thoughtful, mid-tempo track that recalls The Good Life of yore, the crowd had thinned so much that Woo Guy boxed invisible foes. A man in a Chicago Bears hat snapped a few photos of him.

The room finally perked up when Kasher kicked into the opening chords of “Album of the Year,” and Drootin crouched down with her bass, relinquishing the stage entirely to him. For a moment, it was the band people came to see, playing the song they came to hear, and a buoyant sing-along ensued. But midway through, the energy vanished into an extensive jam, complete with maracas and Kasher aimlessly noodling on guitar again. Like the show as a whole, it wasn’t necessarily bad—it was just directionless, a bit sad and mostly confusing.

By the end of it all, even Woo Guy had lost the beat.