Americana with a Creative Edge at The Bowery Ballroom

December 13th, 2013

Cass McCombs – The Bowery Ballroom – December 12, 2013

Onstage behind Cass McCombs and his band last night at The Bowery Ballroom was a large array of randomly blinking light bulbs so that from the back of the room it appeared as if they were playing in front of a gigantic Christmas tree, or perhaps from inside the tree itself. It was a warm, relaxed, sparkling mood that just felt right as the singer-songwriter opened with “Big Wheel” off his new album, Big Wheel and Others. Immediately there was a festive bounce in the room—drums and bass laying a turkey-dinner foundation for McCombs’ vocals. By the second song, “There Can Be Only One,” it was clear that his band—Joe Russo on drums, John Shaw on bass and Dan Iead on guitar—wasn’t going to allow a straight reading of the album.

The quartet established a cozy comfort, a roomy pair of slacks for that I-ate-too-much holiday meal. Russo and Shaw filled spaces with subtle excursions and groovy rhythms, allowing McCombs to explore. This was Americana with a creative edge, each song a homemade ornament to hang on the tree. Little rockers made way for more engaging and transporting moments. “Morning Star” was beautiful: light and easy basslines with some reverb guitar from Iead.

At one point, the stage lights went out, leaving only the silhouette of the band in front of those flickering bulbs. The effect was otherworldly as Allaire moved to the pedal-steel guitar for “Angel Blood,” whirling gorgeous lines while McCombs played off him with his lyrics and guitar. McCombs then reached into his back catalog with the hard-pounding “What Isn’t Nature,” Russo’s drums delivering the rock-out blow. “County Line” found McCombs soulful, hitting the falsetto with eggnog smoothness. Throughout the 90-minute set there were few extraneous notes, no wasted energy and no lost opportunities. In an ironic ugly-Christmas-sweater world, it was an earnest love-of-music kind of night, wrapped up and placed right beneath the tree. —A. Stein