Cass McCombs really knows how to test an audience. The 41-year-old singer-songwriter and his band played a two-hour set to a sold-out crowd at Lincoln Hall on Saturday night, in support of his ninth album, Tip of the Sphere. While most of the songs played were from Tip of The Sphere, the set still featured a variety of fan favorites from his 16-year career, reaching all the way back to his 2003 debut, A. Going from the folk rock roots of his earlier songs to ’70- influenced Americana, his genre-spanning style provided an interesting, albeit quite long, performance.
Featuring full-on jam sessions and extended improvisations for almost every song, the performance began to feel exhausting after about an hour in. Though the crowd didn’t seem bored, I was surprised at the lack of dancing and movement during these marathon jam sessions. Mostly arms-folded 30-and 40-somethings, the audience took to conversing with one another or grabbing a drink during the instrumentals instead of dancing and enjoying the music. That isn’t to say they weren’t fans—a guy sitting next to me in the balcony was belting out the words to “Absentee” to no one in particular—but as a whole, the audience was at times almost TOO reserved, as if they were at an orchestral performance instead of a rock concert.
Although long, there were many moments that made the performance well worth the length. The subdued “County Line” was a welcome break from the drawn-out guitar and bass-heavy instrumentals. Bringing up opener Sam Evian on saxophone was a great choice, adding to the smooth jazz vibes of “Laughter Is The Best Medicine,” the psychedelic waltziness of “Absentee,” and the forlorn emptiness on “Sidewalk Bop After Suicide.” The trippy, bass-fueled “American Canyon Sutra” harkened back to beat poetry and ’60s psychedelia in both performance style and lyrical content, with McCombs sardonically speaking of American culture through references to Walmart and American trash.
With Saturday’s performance, Cass McCombs proved that he is truly a musician’s musician, whose live show draws listeners who appreciate musical culpability over emotional lyrics and crazy theatrics. While his extended improvisations may start to feel boring for the casual listener, with his bona-fide musical talent and unique multigenre sound, it’s still easy to see how he can sell out Lincoln Hall on a Saturday night.