Live Review

Cass McCombs, Bowery Ballroom, NY

It’s great to see an acknowledged singer-songwriter refusing to lean on the simple strum-crutch.

Backed by the honeyed pixels of his ‘You Saved My Life’ video, Cass McCombs takes the stage with little personal fanfare, an arm raised to acknowledge the crowd’s whoops of welcome. In response to the audience’s appreciation, the band break out into a rollicking ‘Bobby, King of Boys’ Town’.

Between their opener and the moonshine punch of ‘Crick In My Neck’, replete with a hillbilly rave-up end, it is impossible to shake Paul Westerberg comparisons throughout the night. Whether it’s the ‘Take Out The Trash’ era apparel, or the rise of certain vocal inflections, McCombs seems to channel a slightly more subdued version of that great Minnesota bard.

At times McCombs seems to treat the guitar as little more than an embellishment, carefully punctuating his songs with appropriate slides and picked bridges. It’s great to see an acknowledged singer-songwriter refusing to lean on the simple strum-crutch.

As ‘Equinox’ kicks into gear, the song is met with a general holler of “Hell yes!” Overheard references to the Grateful Dead (at their most sober) and Jeff Buckley (a few steps down from his highest register) seem at moments both apt, and slightly off. It seems a constant characteristic of McCombs to situate his songs just a touch off track of his influences, both musically and lyrically. There’s a certain personality that leeches out of McCombs’ music, like the darker cousin of quirk, keeping description elusive.

‘You Saved My Life’ keeps an emotional and musical fidelity to the music video, and the original recording, before ending with a harmonica solo and about of unexpected, yet deserved, distortion. Live, ‘Jonesy Boy’ has a certain easy swing, and ‘That’s That’ pleasantly softened a punk-worthy baseline.

It’s hard to keep track of songs toward the second half of the concert. Though McCombs puts on a solid show, the tempo of his songs does not comfortably suit an hour-and-a-half-plus set. He could cap the show at just over an hour and leave the audience thirsting for more, yet a good while later none seem too pleased when McCombs announces his last song.

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