Cass McCombs played a full set Sunday night at the Great American Music Hall, a delicately preserved, picturesque venue tucked away in San Francisco. Somewhat of a musical prodigy, McCombs released two beautifully composed and poignant albums this year, Wit’s End and Humor Risk. During the show, all of the lights in the venue were dimmed to their lowest murmur, with the only illumination coming from a cascade of flickering gold stage lights set up behind the band. McCombs and band started off with “My Sister, My Spouse”, a song whose power lied in its subtlety; the mood was set by the endlessly flickering stage stars that entranced the crowd.
“Pleasant Shadow Song” was a highlight of the show, played with little more than McCombs’ electric guitar and the hand-battered patterings of the drummer. McCombs’ distortion during the song created a dreamscape, a luring lullaby; “County Line” followed with McCombs switching to keyboard. Though it was a somber rendition, there was a beauty to the solemnity, and it brought the crowd back to the days when rock and roll instrumentals were enjoyed for the simplicity of their barest creations.
The show at times was pedantic and repetitive, especially during “The Same Thing” and “Your Mother and Father”. McCombs and band lacked emotion during these tracks, and the songs themselves sounded like the creations of any ol’ indie band. This was disappointing, as on the record the exemplary character and originality of his songs and his sound are amplified, but during his set these simply fell short. However, I learned that what you expect from McCombs is not granted; rather, he is a man of surprise. “Bradley Manning” was a redeeming rendition, and “To Every Man His Chimera” was the best song of the show. “To Every Man” is indeed an empathic and compassionate track, with lyrics like “everyone I know suffers just like me.”
Music is the obvious outlet for McCombs to release his aggressions, fears, and revelations, and this is why he so effortlessly produces some of the most emotionally tarnished compositions in the indie scene today. His tracks have this Western, homely revivalism, a need to recall the simplistic life before the chaos of emotion and the complexities of modernity. Cass McCombs and Band are, more than anything, a group who love the classic rock aspect of their instrumentals, and choose to focus on this during their live performances, often inserting spontaneous solos as they go. Though not as consistently brilliant as I had hoped, the show’s worth seeing simply for the shining moments.
My Sister, My Spouse
Pleasant Shadow Song
The Same Thing
Robin Egg Blue
To Every Man His Chimera
Your Mother and Father
Dreams Come True Girl