Live review: Cass McCombs, Frank Fairfield at CCA 9/1/13

cassCass McCombs and Frank Fairfield would seem kindred spirits; so having these two vagabonds touring together would appear logical; not so, it would seem to those early enough to catch Fairfield.

Although likely a more technically efficient musician than McCombs himself Fairfield’s delicate selection box of hillbilly inspired banjos and fiddles see more streams to the bar than claps of appreciation.

It’s a shame, however, towards the conclusion of the set, and as McCombs time approaches, Fairfield starts to get more of a reception as instrumentation heavy pieces give way to his catalogue of spoken word numbers.

Cass McCombs doesn’t seem to do rock star much, indeed if he weren’t centre stage with strapped on guitar surrounded by band members it’s unlikely you’d be able to pick him from the crowd.

He’d likely be standing next to me, slouched next to the merch stand with a cheeky ale to hand, quietly taking in the evenings set without much of a hoo-ha.

It’s almost as if their is no gig on at the CCA tonight, rather a gathering of a book signings or a workshop masterclass.

The sterile environment provided by the CCA and its guests would seem to suit Mr. McCombs down to the ground.

As he and his three-piece band enter the fray he politely requests the return of the house music while “we tune”.

On his recorded output McCombs connects instantly, with his generous wit, gorgeous phrasing and delivery full of warmth.

He looks to recapture said qualities in a live setting with a set that opens with two songs from his latest release, Big Wheel & Others.

With perhaps not all in attendance entirely familiar with those two recent efforts it appears McCombs may have to dig deeper to garner a response from the apparent workshop attendees.

However, when I say response, it should be noted such a response may well not actually be encouraged as their seems a concerted effort to leave those in the CCA in relative darkness.

Almost comically, it is only on the final set number that McCombs requests the lights “put up”; as if some sort of bonus to those for waiting for him to reappear for a final track.

Just about able to make out the first strums of guitar, the respectful attendees show their only suggestion of appreciation to date as the troubadour delivers “I dig the taste of diesel and the sound of big rigs” the opening line from ‘Big Wheel’.

Flirting between his early folk singer sensibilities with paint brush strokes or three of modern day Americana thrown in; all but one of his seven albums feature in the set with a predictably healthy smattering of Big Wheel & Others.

Devastingly beautiful renditions of ‘I Went to The Hospital’ and ‘Mariah’ leave the audience in a fantastical daze, almost so hypnotised they barely manage applause, “I want to be famous for falling in love” pleads McCombs, perhaps appropriately.

A true folklorist (I might have made that up) if ever there was one, there’s no playing to the gallery, no dumbing down or showmanship (or even much lighting!).

Entertainment does not fit on this artists storyboard filter.

It would seem Cass McCombs demands himself, a storyteller and not a lot else; take it or leave it; it’s unlikely he’ll be fussed either way and in all honesty why should he be.

As someone who has taken to communications strictly via good old fashioned postal mail and nothing else (gasp) perhaps such live setting idealisms shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Closing the set with wonderfully languid fan favourite ‘County Line’, it’s conflicted moody nature seems apt as McCombs waves while introducing his band.

Such is the league McCombs and co operate in it’s a member of his band I have to beg to keep the merch stand open while this reviewer rushes to ‘a hole in the wall’!

Turns out those awaiting a masterclass were not to be disappointed; Cass McCombs delivers a masterclass in how to show up for work and sparkle during the shift without actually engaging at almost any level.

How? Maybe I’ll know after the next class.

Words: Andy Quigley

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