In my mind, Cass McCombs is indie music’s prolific minstrel, whistling away as he ages in an era in which he doesn’t seem to belong. The sentiment is felt by many a listener like myself, and so we follow him on his path to…somewhere. It’s a destination that seems to be better than where we are now, and McCombs, at the ready, bellows his fractured musings about life with grace, bringing together roots rock and a menagerie of other genres on Mangy Love, his debut on the Anti- Records label and best album release yet.
But forget my poeticism regarding the album, for as much as I feel it’s deserved, hearing McCombs on record and McCombs live are two different things, which is why I’m here to report on his appearance at The Teragram Ballroom this past Thursday night. I wasn’t expecting the two-hour concert to be so jammy and laid back, with McCombs and his band fixating on riffs on songs like “Opposite House” and “Bum Bum Bum” and just going with them in many directions. Considering the more free-wheeling nature of his latest record, though, I probably should have.
With a little over a decade’s worth of music in his discography, much of McCombs’ set felt a lot like a songbook, dipping into tracks from his back catalog while keeping in mind that he was there to support the new record. He fit pretty well in the not-so-underground Teragram Ballroom, spacing himself out from the rest of his crew with the knowledge that they would need the space to go all-out, and the staging was purposeful to that effect.
McCombs has his fair share of mid-to-low-tempo tracks, but he peppered his set with some ridiculously fun songs to liven things up, particularly “Run Sister Run,” which has a Tex-Mex vibe. Though I could single out specific songs that played better live, by the time he got around to his two encore tracks, I could put the whole show in perspective to see just how much fun was had, which was quite a lot.
A Thursday night out downtown with Cass McCombs after a long and hard day’s work is and was the most ideal way to see him perform. The enclosed space and expanded time considering his allotment at music festivals provided me a deeper appreciation for what the man has been doing for the last decade, which is to soothe the jangled nerves of those living in weird times. The less polished, more jammy aspect of his performance also gave me an insight into his recording technique, which really was just fascinating to watch and admire as I have been since his beginnings.
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