By Kamila Daurenova, Contributing Writer
Cass McCombs headlined at The Music Hall of Williamsburg on Oct. 28, selling out the three-floor venue. Still, his show ended up feeling more like an opening band than the main act.
The night began with Delicate Steve, a New-Jersey based instrumental band lead by Steve Marion. With great stage presence, smooth rhythms and textured riffs, the band was a hit among the crowd. The absence of lead vocals did not hinder their ability to surprise
whatsoever, as their songs varied in style from classic rock to reggae and dance music. Steve Marion himself was a natural star, making a surprise appearance later on to start a shred session with McCombs’ band.
The incredible performance from Delicate Steve might be part of the reason why it felt like Cass McCombs’ show fell short. But there is no doubt that McCombs is an exceptional songwriter and that “Mangy Love” is his best album so far. The album focuses on political and social issues in modern society. “Run Sister Run” deals with misogyny in the justice system, “Opposite House” focuses on mental illness and “Bum Bum Bum“ uses the allegory of dog breeding to talk about racism and elitism in the government. On the record, the insightfully blunt lyrics mingle with soothing vocals resulting in an eclectic sound that varies in genre between soul, folk, rock and pop.
Unfortunately, his live performance does not do the album justice. While “I’m just here to see Steve” was a recurring statement in pre-concert banter, it was still surprising when the breaks between McCombs’ songs were filled with the occasional shouts from the audience of “bring back Steve.”
It was unclear whether the venue or the artist was at fault for the muffled and inconsistent vocals, but they were not the only problem. McCombs himself lacked the presence needed to captivate the audience and often felt either distant or tired. During one of the lowest points of the concert, a mediocre shred session with McCombs and his band caused a good fourth of the audience to slowly crawl out of the venue.
“Brighter” was the highlight of the night, a folk-rock song with a catchy melody from the album “Big Wheel and Others.” While the atmosphere of the song was light and peaceful, it was one of the only songs that McCombs seemed fully immersed in. Another hit was “Bum Bum Bum,” for which the singer amped up the energy and attitude, getting the entire audience to sing and dance along. These two moments provided great insight into the potential McCombs has as a performer. It’s a shame that it was missing from the rest of the night.