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Cassw McCombs Plays Favorites and More at The Bowery Ballroom

January 8th, 2016

Cass McCombs – The Bowery Ballroom – January 7, 2016

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Another year of rocking and grooving at The Bowery Ballroom kicked off last night with a stacked bill and a sold-out room. Soldiers of Fortune christened the venue for 2016 with a you-might-just-want-to-call-in-sick-tomorrow opening set that played like a single, amorphous 45-minute piece of music. The self-proclaimed “anti-band” supergroup with three guitars, a percolating bass and the perpetual-drum-machine that is Kid Millions showered the growing crowd with layers of noise and melodies.

It might’ve seemed an odd opener for Cass McCombs, but he does appear on their album (although no sit-in Thursday night) and has a more open spirit in his live show than you might have guessed. Near the start of his two-hour headlining set, McCombs sang about being “behind the wheel of a bulldozer” in “Big Wheel.” He may have been referring to his excellent backing band, moving around earth with their double-drummer setup, Jon Shaw on the perpetually bouncing bass and Dan Iead providing increasingly scintillating solos on lead guitar. The set list skipped from fan favorite to fan favorite—the guy standing next to me must have exclaimed, “This is my favorite song” at least three times over the course of the night, and he was likely correct in each instance. Highlights kicked off early when Iead moved to pedal steel for “Brighter!,” providing tasty atmosphere to complement McCombs’ vocals, halfway between country and ’60s pop, while stationary disco lights surrounded the band like blobs of starlight.

The set hinged on a strong stretch of singer-songwriter-meets-crusher-live-band tunes including “Name Written in Water,” “My Sister, My Spouse”—which featured an extended outro with expert interplay between Iead and Shaw—and “Robin Egg Blue” with Iead’s best solo of the night opening into a drum-led full-band jam, McCombs letting things go loose for a while. While your standard Thursday night set would have come to a close at this point, McCombs had a whole crock pot full of excellent material still simmering and ready to dish out to the eager audience. The show’s final half was filled with similar highlights: pedal-steel-flavored folk, hippie rock ramblers, heavy bangers and mellow FM groovers. The weird and wild encore eclipsed the midnight hour, the room still full of a pepped crowd, the music dominated by another all-inclusive, open-ended jam that wrapped around a total space-out and a double drum solo before finally coming back to close out the truly proper kickoff of the year’s music calendar. —A. Stein | @Neddyo