Cass McCombs / White Magic Electric Owl, Vancouver BC December 6

Cass McCombs / White Magic Electric Owl, Vancouver BC December 6
Brooklyn's Mira Billotte represented White Magic solo this evening. Following through on her announced plan to play a quiet, quiet set, Billotte split duties between digital piano and a flat rawhide drum, going one further by singing a cappella for several songs. With her vocals drenched in reverb, she sounded like Trish Keenan of Broadcast if Keenan was set to rigid piano samples instead of distorted synthesizer instrumentals. Billotte didn't have a pitch-perfect voice, yet her sombre, emotive tone was thoroughly compelling. Even her piano work was fairly minimal and a little off, yet the slight mistakes just made the experience all the more visceral and honest. She does more than simply play her songs; she exudes them.

Cass McCombs was a bit of a ham. Standing solemnly in front of an orangey yellow lighting rig that flickered like a campfire, he intended to bum out the crowd, but he qualified that by saying, "First comes the bumming, then the entertaining." Later on, right as he and his four-piece band finished a song, McCombs cheekily said, "C'mon, I know you're not all clapping. That was hard." His humour brought a nice sense of levity to the seriousness of his sound.

During the earlier, quieter numbers, McCombs displayed his pointed yet wavering voice, almost cracking, reminiscent of perpetually depressed cult hero Elliott Smith. In fact, his band played so quietly that the drummer went from brushes to using one bare hand while keeping the beat with a shaker in the other, but as promised, they picked up intensity and volume as the set progressed. McCombs transitioned from acoustic to electric guitar, and eventually most of the band found room in his lovingly written singer-songwriter ballads to let loose tasteful bursts of solos. Nothing was overplayed.

Their set was rather sleepy and contemplative overall, well suiting the grey drizzle of the day in Vancouver, which misted from dawn 'til dusk. "County Line" certainly resonated, McCombs oozing sorrow while playing the signature electric piano melody as at least half a dozen male audience members stood with their eyes closed, mouthing the words, nodding their heads, and having a quiet experience with the Wit's End single. It's easy to see why, and easy to see that Vancouver loves this guy.