Having gently brushed against folk-rock's edges, Cass McCombs stepped away from the glimmer of light as he started his tour in support of his fifth album, "Wit's End," on Wednesday (May 4) at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
His 75-minute set was nearly all ballads, many of them late-'60s/early-'70s pop-inspired chamber folk records such as the Beatles' "Sun King" and Donovan at his most orchestrated, reflecting the tonal quality of "Wit's End."
Opening with the album's opening track and first single, "County Line," McCombs and his four-piece band gradually built energy, one baby step at a time. McCombs' new music, all of it slow and cushioned, has the pristine quality of a freshly made bed, a folky twist on chamber pop.
On stage, McCombs removes the chilliness from the new recordings to co-mingle with the twisted folk of 2009's superb "Catacombs" and 2007's "Dropping the Writ," an album that shares the ambition of his new album. While opening night of the tour was very much a career overview -- only three songs came from "Wit's End" -- the result was a show as hushed as the new album, with McCombs retaining the album's frigid qualities when singing from behind an electric piano and sparking to life when he strapped on a guitar.
McCombs, who has called Baltimore and California home, has made a name for himself as a nomad, connecting with European indie rock circles in the early 2000s and more recently with folk-rock fans in the U.S.
McCombs, who often presents his music as a bruised lover spilling his emotions, summons a compelling stateliness at times. He delivered "Meet Me Here at Dawn" in a manner that suggested Low performing Procol Harum; harmonies gave one of his oldies, "Equinox," a light-as-clouds effect and as it floated down, McCombs' electric guitar brought an assertiveness to the arrangement that the voices responded to in turn.
His tour of the U.S. runs through May 12 with a date at New York's Bowery Ballroom before he heads to Europe for 11 concerts between May 16 (Barcelona, Spain) and June 2 (Malmo, Sweden).
Here is Cass McCombs' setlist:
"Meet Me Here At Dawn"
"The Lonely Doll"
"Bobby, King of Boy's Town"
"AIDS in Africa"
"City of Brotherly Love"