featuring Sam Evian
March 9, 2019 at The Sinclair
Cass McCombs is the kid from your middle school homeroom whose entire wardrobe is classic rock band t-shirts. He started putting music out in 2002, but I would have believed you if it came out 40 years ago. Not to say it’s dated, as Cass McCombs takes influence from a wide array of contemporaries; I’m just saying I wasn’t surprised when he took off his flannel to reveal a Led Zeppelin t-shirt.
When I arrived, the opener, Sam Evian, was playing to a slowly growing audience, but charming a few loyal fans. By the time McCombs came on to play the house was nearly packed, but the show still felt personal and intimate. It wasn’t my usual scene. Instead of being pushed aside or getting an elbow in the face for standing in the wrong place at the right time, I was asked politely “if you could move, you’re blocking my view.” The audience wasn’t there to let loose or scream their favorite lyrics while they blow their eardrums; they were there to see what Cass McComb’s would do next. As a college-aged student, I felt out of place.
The live show echoed his latest album, Tip of the Sphere, which borrowed heavily from classic rock and took a page out of the book of great jam bands of the past. Cass McCombs has been putting out music since 2002, but it sounds like he could have been putting records out since the ’70s. Tracks like “Brighter” from his 2013 album “Big Wheel and Others” seems to take influence from Neil Young with some twangy guitar and a soft, stoic drumbeat while the vocals seem like they would fit in perfectly on a Velvet Underground song, especially when McCombs goes into a falsetto when he sings “I stopped it for a little while” which seems to be a direct nod to when Lou Reed sings “I watched it for a little while” on “Satellite of Love.”
McCombs made chit chat with the audience, coming across as humble and honest. He never begged the audience to make more noise or to keep their hands up. McCombs let everyone in the room enjoy his music on their own terms, swaying peacefully in the front or standing motionless on the sides. He shied away from any bragging or much eye contact and looked more comfortable communicating with his band then his fans.
Much in the same way he let the audience enjoy show how they wanted, he let his band play on their own terms. They read each other well, and they knew how to take lead and fall back when they need to. It was clear they played just because they loved playing music. They played with ease, with creativity, and with knowing smiles on their faces.
They warped and extended crowd favorites like “County Line” and “Minimum Wage,” blending in new sounds into already complex pieces. I don’t know if the additions were created on the spot that night or if they were something the band had played before, but it felt organic and mystifying.
Despite songs that seemed to go on for extended amounts of time, the show did unfortunately come to a close, and I left the show feeling like I had to reenter 2019. It wasn’t what I expected, but it felt nice to go to a concert where I could appreciate the music on my own terms, and in my own time.
Photos by Ian Dobbins