Of all the albums singer-songwriter Cass McCombs has released over the last 10 years, his eighth LP, Mangy Love, is his most focused and poignant work to date, managing to blend blues, folk, jazz and pop together seamlessly. McCombs and band brought the wit and charm of the record to the Horseshoe Tavern last night (October 26) in a performance that mixed old and new, along with a few rip-roaring solos and fun banter throughout the night.
The evening began with opening act Delicate Steve (aka Steve Marion), a multi-instrumentalist who's worked with Mac DeMarco, Yeasayer and Dirty Projectors, among others, in the past. On stage, Marion and his band delivered shimmering guitar tones that bordered on psychedelia while their vocals echoed vibrantly into the audience. There were a few awkward pauses — in one, Marion told the crowd he was sick — but their set marched on, punctuated by '70s pop vibes, lots of smooth rhythms and catchy lyrics. The grand finale had a grainy reverb flourish, the band forming more layered, textured riffs as their shred session intensified.
After greeting the audience, McCombs and his band began the night with "Outsiders House," bringing every element of the soulful, alt-country song to life, right down to the conversational croon of McCombs, who interacted a lot with the front section as he sang to the crowd. The band transitioned smoothly into "Bum, Bum, Bum," on which they fused pitch-perfect harmonies with woozy feedback to created a tranquil atmosphere.
Delicate Steve made a surprise appearance with the band, playing a number of songs including "Rancid Girl," which quickly turned into another gnarly shred session when Marion fully unlocked the psych-rock virtuoso within and non-stop swarms of swirling reverb blew through the crowd. After the Marion left the stage, McCombs kept the momentum going, revisiting songs like "Robin Egg Blue," which had the audience singing along.
Unfortunately, the crowd seemed to lose interest at some points, the front section talking boisterously over McCombs, totally unmoved by his breezy rock songs. By the end though, he got the crowd refocused by making each song a bit groovier, and giving his vocals and guitar riffs just a bit more attitude as the bounced along and ripped even harder than before. Though a slight hiccup almost derailed things at the end, it was in those moments, when McCombs was willing to tap into his inner rock star and let his unique banter and humour shine through his performance, that he demonstrated how captivating a performer he can be.