by / November 18th, 2008 /

Live: Cass McCombs, Whelan’s, Dublin

If nothing else, Cass McCombs’ Heineken Green Synergy gig in Whelan’s proved that the founding principle of every band is very simple. The secret is, as Lou Reed has maintained for at least 30 years, guitar, bass and drums.

Following a storming set from Conor O’Brien’s new five-piece band, Villagers, Cass and bassist Walter opened their set with a rehearsal of the guitar and bass parts for a new untitled tune before being joined by their drummer and surging gently into an untitled melody, vaguely reminiscent of a host of surfer bands. The evening’s tenor thus set in motion, new song after new song followed, mostly introduced by an indistinct mumbled ‘Here’s another new one’, but who needs wordy intros when you can play like this man?

With the new songs (due to be released as a new album in March ’09), gone are all the references to mid-’80s Brit Indie bands and in comes a combination of New Orleans-influenced street blues, South American dance rhythms and faux Pixies/ Sonic Youth clips, mixed in with surprisingly beautiful melodies, the jagged and the tender bouncing off each other at the most unexpected points in each song. After a stripped down version of -Do I Do’, from Dropping The Writ, the string of new and mostly unannounced songs continued, until we were treated to -Lionkiller’.

Cass McCombs’ ability to suck people quietly and surreptitiously into his musical world was the most impressive aspect of the entire night. During the course of a song we think was called -Equinox’, all the lights on stage were switched off and the communal dark was filled with nothing but the sound of the band chanting in unison, ‘Equal dark / Equal Light”. No bombast. No robotic machinery. Just simple beauty evoked from a podless, pedal-less Gibson.

The intricate interplay of the musicians and the almost hypnotic three part bass harmonies resulted in bouts of on-the-spot dancing, as rapt audience members were washed away by the insistent gentleness of the songs. But it wasn’t just the audience who were enjoying themselves, Cass and his band spent most of the show grinning at each other like the cats who got the keys to the dairy. A truly beautiful occasion and one to be repeated as soon and as often as possible.

Photo by Rich Gilligan.


  • Spot on review, you got it down to a T. Btw, I have a demo from Villagers over at mp3hugger for the next few days.

  • Owen

    Not being a Cass McCombs anorak/nerd here – but that’s a pretty poor review.. ‘do i do’ is called ‘That’s That’ and Lionkiller was (i think) his first proper tune after the jam/instrumental.

  • Not being a Cass Mc-Combs anorak nerd myself either I can’t really comment, Owen you’d better ask the man himself because thats the title he gave me when I asked him. Or else slap one of your Reviews up here too so I can critique it for you. Martin A. Egan

  • Last comment was deleted as it was a personal insult. None of that here.

  • walker

    I am the bass player. My name is walker, not walter, and the song is titled “that’s that”. Thanks to the good folks at whelan’s and especially to goodtime john, the best host in all of europe.

  • Hi Walker. Thank you for clearing that point up. Its almost worth being called a Cass Mc-Combs anorak/nerd for. The Gig was great as you may have gathered from my Review. And Cass was very nice (to me) as well. Having a Setlist handy to give to New Fans, whether they be Reviewers or general public is a good thing. Announcing the Titles helps too. Especially when their from an unmade unnamed Album. I think I did a really good job myself in the circumstances. Goodtime also writes for a Magazine so should have been a little more helpful as in supplying the requested Setlist.. Regards Martin A. Egan