A Voice in the Dark

January 26th, 2012

Cass McCombs – The Bowery Ballroom – January 25, 2012

The band played in relative darkness, with a screen projecting shimmering gold dots providing the only light onstage. And, against the background, they looked like backlit shadows. The figures created sound, but their performance couldn’t be seen—all the better for Cass McCombs. The reportedly elusive singer-songwriter delivered his literal and personal lyrics with as much anonymity as possible.

Camera flashes provided brief glimpses of the frontman, but on the whole, his voice came from a silhouette. He sang about creatures and passwords written on sticky notes similar to Charlie delivering secrets to his angels. The audience listened attentively for instruction and information. And, for his part, McCombs was a purveyor of both.

During such upbeat numbers as the opener, “Love Thine Enemy,” McCombs tossed off aphorisms and advice. But the tone shifted mostly to midtempo country and folk. The comfortably laid-back sound, pervasive in the current indie-music scene, sounded effortless coming from McCombs and company. It is, after all, his signature. So when they finished with the 2011 lauded single “County Line” and left the stage, the lights immediately came back on. No needs to hide once you’ve left the stage. —Jared Levy