Reviews

Cass McCombs

Sara Hayes

Playing in a dark room, with swirling purple lights and a smoke machine, the atmosphere during Cass McCombs’ set was oddly reminiscent of a school dance -- stately, sleepy, and a little awkward.

Cass McCombs

Cass McCombs

City: Philadelphia, PA
Venue: Johnny Brenda's
Date: 2008-08-09

Disappointment is a part of life; it’s an unavoidable side effect that’s bound to happen from time to time. Sometimes even your favorite musicians -- the ones you hold up on a pedestal -- are going to momentarily stumble. When the musician in question is the extremely talented Cass McCombs, one knows that the fall can’t (and won’t) be long lived. He has given fans three amazingly good albums over the years; the newest one, Dropping the Writ, was released in October 2007. He’s known and appreciated for his flair for the dramatic, as well as his intelligent songwriting. McCombs has a knack for creating little pop gems -- shards of dark humor wrapped in shiny melodies with hooks that stay with the listener long after the song has finished. Opening for Beach House in Philadelphia along with local darling Tickley Feather, McCombs’ set was a cool spot in a night that was filled with hazy, swirling sounds and general good vibes -- especially when compared with the quirky charm of Tickley Feather and the warm beauty of the headlining band. Beginning with an extended surf rock instrumental, McCombs and his band led us through a set that was mostly unrecognizable. He may have been testing out new material, or he may have even treated the crowd to an entire set of obscure cover songs. With no indication from the man himself, it was extremely hard to tell (even after furiously scribbling snippets of lyrics down to Google later.) The band brought back the Dick Dale surf rock jam halfway through the set, and while it was interesting to hear, I couldn’t help but wish that they’d inserted a song from his extensive catalog instead. It’s not too much of a stretch for a fan to want to hear songs from the album the artist is technically touring to support, right? It’s not to say that there weren’t bright spots, however. “Not the Way”, the title track from the EP released in 2002, was languid and hypnotic with a fluid melody. McCombs’ vocals often come across like a strange mix of honey and concrete – heavy, yet flowing with the song at the same time. The evening’s first real moment of energy came with “Lionkiller”, the opening track on McCombs’ latest album; all rolling bass line and circular melody, the song bounced along on frenetic guitars and pounding drums. The same can be said for the only other identifiable track of the evening -- “Subtraction”, found on 2005’s PREfection. Generally speaking, McCombs’ songs are simply constructed, but they have a twist to them -- either musically or lyrically -- that elevate them into something unique. Sadly, it seemed to be obscured this evening. Since the majority of the songs all moved at the same glacial pace, the entire set seemed as if it were one continuous song with no real delineation between them. A song ended, we clapped, and a new one began that seemed to be the sequel to the last -- almost as if ending each song was just a small break for the trio to catch their breath. There was very little movement from the band -- fixed in place, it almost felt like the music just happened to come out of the instruments with very little active participation required. Mix that with the dark room, swirling purple lights, and Johnny Brenda’s smoke machine, and the atmosphere oddly reminded me at points of a school dance -- stately, sleepy, and a little awkward. In fact, someone else in the audience was feeling similarly, as he loudly proclaimed to the quiet crowd at one point, “Tonight is slowly, slowly kickass!” You know what? I totally agree, sir. The night was hard to define, as it was promising, underwhelming, and frustrating all at the same time. Was it good? Yes, but it felt like a bit of a tease. I’m still holding out hope for Cass McCombs, though; perhaps it was a bad night, or maybe he just wanted to experiment -- or it could be that he just wanted to try out a different persona/approach. No matter what the case may be, his albums deserve to be heard. Hopefully, he’ll come back to Philadelphia and want to play more from them -- and if he does, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image