Line Out Music & the City at Night

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cass McCombs and John Cale at the Showbox Market

Posted by on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Cass McCombs and his band
  • Cass McCombs and his band
The last time I saw Cass McCombs in concert, he was very angry. I’ve blocked most of the night out, but the parts I remember involve McCombs repeatedly asking for the lights to be dimmed, one concert goer in the crowd requesting that the singer take his shirt off, and a general sense that he hated everyone in attendance. Last night, McCombs was a much more gracious performer (he said “thank you” more than once!), and played a short and tidy nine song set to a paltry standing room crowd at the Showbox Market. Despite it lacking seething anger emanating from onstage, the set was weird in a lot of different ways. I’ve never attended a concert where I could hear someone’s yawn over the music. Or witnessed a man next to me sketching a still life portrait of the musicians in a moleskine. Or been distracted by a venue’s disco ball. Or stood next to so many men in scarves at a row of urinals. McCombs and his band played two of my favorite songs from his latest album, Humor Risk, “Love Thine Enemy” and “Robin Egg Blue,” and with most of the songs being somewhat subdued, the few moments where the band cut loosed seemed even more invigorating.

Cass McCombs setlist
  • Cass McCombs setlist

Read about John Cale after the jump.

Probably because I’m an abject ageist, I have to restrain myself when talking about musicians who are older than me. Trying to write about John Cale right now, the same boilerplate terms immediately come to mind, like “godfather of (genre tag),” “elder statesman,” “he’s still rocking after all these years,” or any other description that’s essentially saying the musician is very revered, but also has his best years behind him. When I was a little younger, I had a hard time understanding why any older musician would put out new records and tour behind them, when the only songs anyone ever wanted to hear were the older ones. It’s taken a little while, but I think I’m finally understanding the reasons for an artist not wanting to play the same songs for 30 years.

I will say that my primary motivation for seeing Cale live last night wasn’t a fondness (or even a strong familiarity) with his solo work; it was mostly to simply be in the same room as a man who was in the Velvet Underground, and like I mentioned in my Underage column this week, responsible for producing some of the best albums of all time. So I didn’t recognize most of the material he played last night. Going over my notes, and listening to his new album right now, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, Cale and his band played most of that record, live; to my groggy morning ears, it sounded a lot better live. I could hear some of the various decades that Cale has been active, from his ’70s peak (hearing “Helen of Troy” was the highlight of the night for me) to ’80s excursions into synth pop (I’d never heard “Satellite Walk” before last night, but with its lyrics of “Who's that in the big Japanese car?” and “Who’s been sleeping in my VCR” it wasn’t too hard to pinpoint which decade it came from), and finally his modern output. With his younger backing band, Cale had a certain headmaster’s air about him, dutifully leaning one ear towards his pupils, and giving them brief moments to shine. Saying goodbye at the end of the night, after playing a medley of songs that went from “Gun” (one of my favorite songs ever) into a cover of the Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso,” Cale said he’d be back soon. I just hope I do more of my homework before next time.

John Cale setlist
  • John Cale setlist


Comments (11) RSS

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Long time John Cale fan here (if not fanatic). I thought the show was terrific and I don't think all of the shows of his I have seen have been quite on that level. Never thought I would hear him play Captain Hook live. I had the feeling most people there were there due to the fact that he was a founder of the Velvet Underground but his solo work is well worth familiarizing yourself with. Both Paris 1919 and Music For A New Society are absolute classics if you ask me. Unfortunately I think the latter, and most of his other albums, have been out of print for years.
Posted by Rhizome on December 7, 2012 at 12:23 PM · Report this
PTrig 2
I was the person sketching at the show. I have drawings from most every performance that I've been to over the last two to three years. By no means should my doodling be taken as being disrespectful to the musicians. I typically give at least one drawing to each performer I capture. Many people have complimented me on this and the bands are often very gracious for the gift and see it as a real treat to be given something in return for their performance.

I'd never heard Cass McCombs before. I thought that the set was engaging and enjoyed most of his songs. I was surprised by what seemed to me a significant percentage of the early concert attendees being their specifically for Cass. I think a good number of people left before John Cale came on stage.

The Cale performance, in my opinion, was fantastic. I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't expect to be completely mesmerized. I was. I do like the new album, especially the way that it transforms slowly into a more electronic album as each new track rolls out. The songs transition nicely from one to the next. I did know going into the concert that we would hear a good dose from Cale's latest.

Live, the new songs sat comfortably with the older ones. I was happy to hear Cale pull from across his solo catalog. "Model Beirut Recital" rocked me. "Helen of Troy!" and "Guts." I loved Cale leaning towards and glancing at his musicians and smiling at what he heard. It was a great show. I do hope that we see him again soon. But I'm not holding my breath.

I tried to put the set list down last night when I got home. This is what I came up with:

Pile a l'heure
Captain Hook
Model Beirut Recital
Bluetooth Swings
I Wanna Talk 2 U
You Know More Than I Know
Helen of Troy
Scotland Yard
Praetorian Underground
Face to the Sky
Satellite Walk
The Hanging
Nookie Wood

(encore) Gun/Pablo Picasso/Mary Lou
Posted by PTrig on December 7, 2012 at 1:12 PM · Report this
J. Lasser 3
@2 -- Pile a 'leure? I thought that was Hedda Gabbler....

Also, I was also watching you sketch (and enjoying that) -- do you post some of them online?

Posted by J. Lasser on December 7, 2012 at 1:49 PM · Report this
Megan Seling 4
@2 I'm with @3—I wanna see some of these sketches!
Posted by Megan Seling on December 7, 2012 at 2:37 PM · Report this
PTrig 5
The opening number was the one I was most unsure about. Thanks for the correction.

You can view the sketches here. There's also bunches of non-rock drawings. My apologies for my poor curatorial skills. I recommend that you start at the back and work your way up.…

Posted by PTrig on December 7, 2012 at 3:38 PM · Report this
PTrig 6
Oh, and I'm glad that you enjoyed the act of my drawing, #2. I don't usually try to stand front and center when I'm doing it.
Posted by PTrig on December 7, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 7
"paltry standing-room crowd"?

what does that mean? there weren't that many people, but they were standing?
Posted by Max Solomon on December 7, 2012 at 4:48 PM · Report this
Honestly I could have done without quite so much soloing from the dude on guitar, his style didn't seem to always fit the songs.
Posted by Joestork on December 7, 2012 at 5:34 PM · Report this
I, too, (like J. Hathorn) went to be in the same room as the founder of VU and jesus did he not give the mellow Cohen-esque performance from earlier in the day on KEXP. My ears are still ringing. I admit I wasn't familiar with any of the tunes and usually that's a bum nite in a club, but I caught the wave from the get go. Cale looked like the admiral of a ship up taking steerage through a sonic maelstrom. At least I'm hopin' that's why my pants were wet after the show. And if I can change into clean underwear when i'm his age. He's goddamn 70 and rocked harder than a stack of 'Singles' soundtracks.

Thanks for the setlist @2-- and for posting your sketches.

I got my ass kicked my rocknroll last nite.

Posted by sourcloud on December 7, 2012 at 9:19 PM · Report this
This comes off as an amateur review by a bored stoner. If you want to review music shows, write about the music, not the the venue or the people you enocunter at the unrinals. And if you think you relly have something to say about music, at least get a professional to correct phrases like, "cut loosed."
Posted by yuiop on December 8, 2012 at 2:02 AM · Report this
Paul Kuniholm Pauper 11
Was moved greatly by the timbre of a consummate artist, John Cale. My paramour and I had a very memorable evening.
Posted by Paul Kuniholm Pauper on December 18, 2012 at 12:49 PM · Report this

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