Queen Elizabeth Hall – January 13th
It is a tranquil evening along the River Thames with which we are greeted to the cordial ambiance of Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth’s Hall, and no better a place to embrace the touching candour of one wandering musician: Cass McCombs.
Such is his appeal that we find harmony between the most far-fetched of faces in the prelude to his presence: as Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce sips drinks in the lobby, Preston from The Ordinary Boys reservedly awaits company, whilst we stroll, ruminating about the venerable courtesy of there being a free cloakroom. We are interrupted by our hushed commentator: “Please return to your seats in the auditorium; the final performance is about to begin.”
Opening with the killer sliding chords and curls of woody bass, ‘Big Wheel’ is an earthly captivating opening encounter. And with barely a murmur of introduction, our endearing embrace is commenced.
An unassuming set-up matches a modest demeanour; McCombs resists any chat as he stands donning a plaid shirt and chunky Etnies, and his unpretentious three-piece accompaniment follow suit. A backdrop of carefully placed flight-cases dimly lit in blues, purples and reds, sits behind the performers like a half-baked game of Tetris. It is a humble atmosphere that works entirely to their credit, and their flawless performance of softly-strung Americana is rewarded with both blissful silence and rapturous applause.
With a blossoming sound encompassing a tee-totalled Kurt Vile to a solemnest Elliott Smith, we are taken on a sensuous stream of natural sounds. With tracks like ‘Morning Star’, the sumptuous addition of a lap steel offers a truly memorable sleep walk to the surf of a Honolulu shore. ‘Dream Come True Girl’ stirs up a dynamic rush as the tender ballad is galvanised by shaking percussion and an extended coda of immersive jamming. A visceral streak is marked with the wailing decibels of ‘What Isn’t Nature’ before the gallops and gurgles of ‘Lionkiller’ close the set.
It was an evening as serene as we could have wanted, and we can only hope that there are more places like this to offer McCombs the spellbinding atmosphere that his music clearly deserves.
Gallery: Photos of the show by Rachel Lipsitz