For those who made the trip to Parc Extension’s Il Motore for Cass McCombs, I’m fairly sure they feel vindicated right now. The room wasn’t quite packed, but busy enough with the kinds of people who would have made it out regardless of time, day, weather, or any other obstacle for that matter. McCombs’ trademark backdrop of flickering lights was set up on stage as we entered the room, waiting for the nomadic singer to set up shop.
Before McCombs dazzled the crowd, Baltimore band Arbouretum took to the stage and hammered out an all too brief set, finding its place somewhere between alt-country, Southern Rock, and 90s grunge. The crowd was slow to catch on, many still tricking in as the band’s churning riffs washed over the room. By the end of their performance, however, they seemed to have left a solid impression on most attendees. Here’s hoping a few more will have caught on for their next visit.
Perhaps not wanting to leave people hanging, or maybe just anxious to start playing, Cass McCombs wasted no time in taking the stage. He started by expressing his desire to “bury the hatchet” (most probably a reference to his last show, where he halted a song mid-way to tell an enthusiastic audience member singing over him, to be… well, less enthusiastic, as he couldn’t hear himself on stage), before ploughing through a set largely made up of cuts from his new double-album, Big Wheel and Others.
Standout tracks from the new record – “Brighter”, “Morning Star”, “There Can Be Only One” – were played with a strange, relaxed intensity. Each of these numbers has a wistful, chilled-out mood, but McCombs approached his vocal duties with a raw edge, spitting each line as if it were his last. Whether this was a conscious decision to grab the crowd’s attention or not, the contrast between the quiet songs and Big Wheel’s more up-tempo tracks was balanced meticulously. In the several times I’ve seen Cass McCombs play, this was the loudest (yet with the least amount of musicians on stage), and most dynamic. After bringing the audience to a state of serene reverence with “County Line”, McCombs closed the night with “Bury Mary”, the most frenetic and the oldest song of the night, from 2005s Prefection. As the band ambled off stage, the crowd, with Arcade Fire’s Win Butler present, were left wanting more, and with that surely the hatchet had been buried.