Cass McCombs was primed to be the meat in a stellar indie rock sandwich at last night’s Band of Horses-headlined show at the Gargoyle. Unfortunately, the singer/songwriter’s set was plagued by sound problems early on, resulting in equally apathetic interplay between the audience and musician.
McCombs, who performed with the backing of a three-piece band, generally brings a unique version of new-Americana. On his 2007 album Dropping the Writ, the sound is a mix of the Black Lips’ heavy, cheeky blues, Band of Horses’ anthemic indie rock, and Morrissey-inspired vocals. Last night, he and his group tried his best to perform an exact replica of that sound. The result was disastrous.
Heavy low-end feedback that sounded like a broken bass amp ruined the first four songs. Though the sound problems eventually dissipated, the band apparently could not shake the setback and proceeded to mail in the rest of the set.
They seemed content to just play the songs without energy or alteration, trying for a reproduction of the album with only half the effort. It was an unfortunate contrast to Band of Horses’ carefree, balls-to-the-wall approach to indie rock that capped the night.
The group left the stage without so much as a whisper. There wasn’t a single word of banter or even a simple “thank you and goodnight.” The audience, which had ceased paying attention long ago, didn’t seem to mind.
Band of Horses, in contrast, might have been the best-sounding band I’ve (Annie Zaleski) ever heard at the Gargoyle. Before they or McCombs played, however, Tyler Ramsey performed a mesmerizing solo set. The beanpole-tall, bearded, flannel-sporting guitarist (who’s now also in Band of Horses) plucked his way through songs from his fantastic solo debut, A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea. A quiet, attentive crowd – perhaps one of the quietest crowds I’ve heard in St. Louis – stood at rapt attention as Ramsey channeled Mark Kozelek, in the way his acoustic-folk was emotional and moving without being granola, overly serious or boring. A cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night” preceded the fluttery, set-closing instrumental “Birdwings,” a rich, evocative display of Ramsey’s picking talent.
Band of Horses came onstage and immediately launched into two songs from its debut, Everything All the Time, including “The First Song.” The Cease to Begin single “Is There a Ghost?” came next, and the relatively stripped-back beginning swelled and crescendoed with massive guitar power (a reflection of the band’s six-piece touring line-up). Other Begin highlights – the dreamy “Detlef Schrempf,” a rollicking “The General Specific” and especially an ebullient, joyous “Ode to LRC,” which featured the most meaningful “lai-de-dai, lai-de-dai” wordless crooning I’ve seen lately – resembled their studio versions without being carbon-copies. Rollicking, upeat, R.E.M.-ish Time songs such as "Wicked Gil" and "Weed Party" also stood out.
Singer and band leader Ben Bridwell looked ecstastic to be on stage throughout, even during “General Specific,” as he grinned wildly (visible even underneath an Amish-core beard) and banged on a tambourine with a drumstick. His keening voice – a croon with faint hints of twang but also grizzled classic Southern-rock wiles -- was also nothing short of astounding, whether harmonizing with Ramsey, or simply taking center stage. It’s the rare singer who sounds exactly the same on disc and live, and Bridwell is one of ‘em.
The band’s cover choices this night -- J. J. Cale’s “Thirteen Days” (thanks, Roy) and the CCR tune “Effigy” (popularized by Uncle Tuplo on the No Alternative soundtrack; thanks, Shae) aligned perfectly with their barnburning, indie-rock-in-the-classic-rock vein. I fully expect the next BoH show to be at the Pageant, so the intimate Gargoyle stage was nothing short of a treat.
Band of Horses, "Thirteen Days," Atlanta, 12/28/07:
P.S. Props to the Gargoyle for selling T-shirts with the slogan "Tasing Bros since 2007" on their backs. Hilarious.
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