Cass McCombs at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Cass McCombs’ decade-long career has been steeped in obscurity. Remaining actively reclusive from the music industry – refusing to disclose the meaning behind his songs and promoting two of his most challenging albums only through postal interview – McCombs’ heralded place in the folk-rock genre is truly a testament to his astounding musical capabilities.
McCombs’ concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall arrives in the wake of his seventh album release – The Big Wheel and Others. The songs pertain to an interest in the American West where Californian-born Coombs’s grew up before adopting a nomadic existence travelling the world. His bubbling drawl casts a nostalgic glow, evoking the warbling and evocative storytelling style of America’s old folk crooners, while Western rolling plains and sun-drenched desert landscapes are suggested in the tracks’ languid, sprawling nature.
Onstage McCombs is a quiet, retiring performer, offering little engagement with the audience other than a brief “Hi, I’m Cass McCombs” and a quick introduction of the band. He provides no direction; rather all attention is focused on the music, encouraging us to spend the evening tracing its languorous melodies and dreamy beats.
McCombs begins with new single Big Wheel – a warm culmination of folk, Americana and funk, tackling the issue of modern masculinity. “What does it mean to be a man?” he sings in leisurely spoken monotone to jangling drums and twanging guitar riffs. Angel Blood is a dazzling soundscape of wild jazz experimentation, with a wavering electronic dulcimer whining ethereally overhead.The bright sunshine chords and trickling bass of Name Written in Water carry a following melodic beauty, while Morning Star shimmers with McCombs’ gentle, sunken vocal and witty lines. Love Thine Enemy is a triumph of the night, its discordant instrumental section blistering with crashing drums and thundering bass.
Throughout the evening, however, there is a sense that something is lacking. Usually vibrant tracks such as Brighter and Dreams Come True Girl fail to pop with the tenacious brightness their recorded versions hold and the lulling beats of Big Wheel and Others lag at times – not helped by McCombs’ lack of interaction.
Despite this, McCombs’ talent and the sheer beauty of his songs still impress, and the evening finishes on a dreamy high with the wistful, cascading notes of County Line.
For further information and future events visit Cass McCombs’s website here.
Watch the video for Big Wheel here: