CASS McCOMBS , MATES OF STATE and MATT MAYS at the Horseshoe, September 25. Tickets: $8.50. Attendance: 175. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
i know a lot of folks have got their hate on for scrawny white sensitive indie rock boys who beat out their frustration at the injustices of the world through the whammy bars on their electric guitars, but I'm not one of 'em. In fact, there's something about reedy-voiced singer/songwriters who look like they could use a good meal and a shower that affects me profoundly. The anguish! The Goodwill T-shirts! The cryptic lyrics! Reminds me of the unparalleled emotional roller coaster of high school, I guess, which is why I couldn't take my eyes off weedy northern California-bred troubadour Cass McCombs as he quavered and quivered onstage at the Horseshoe last Thursday night.
McCombs is one of those performers who have a certain cachet in indie hipster circles. He's done stints as Will Oldham's touring guitarist, but his name meant nothing to me till an admired record-label acquaintance of mine tipped me off.
He and his band definitely look the part - hoodied drummer hunched hobbit-like midstage, bored-seeming chick keyboardist, intense bass player, all scruffy and sporting thrift-store apparel - and they have those jangly, schizophrenic, dissonant chord-swerve sonics that old-school Pavement and Smog fans eat up.
They were surprisingly tight, but the thing that really hooked me was McCombs's vaguely feral passion onstage. A dead-on Ben Lee doppelgänger, he seemed totally innocuous till he let loose with a soul-scraping whine and spastic attack on his guitar. Even with his eyes half-shut and his back turned to the audience, McCombs radiated intensity.
The jerky post-punk tone of his tunes was reminiscent of Jersey-raised basher Ted Leo, although McCombs could use some of Leo's self-aware confidence.
He could also stand to enunciate a bit. At one point I thought I heard something about dates and apricots, but it turned out to be the peculiar AIDS In Africa (" and cancer back home / The season of giving is here / A war is on"). Huh?
Compared to McCombs, Haligonian country rocker Matt Mays gave off so much masculine energy I could feel hair growing on my chest. The shaggy balls-out dude left me cold during his NXNE gig, but I was won over by his well-crafted bar rock revamp this time around. Mays had a few cheeseball moments (impassioned Dylanesque growling among them) worthy of his Guns N' Roses T-shirt but killed with newer material like the lavish doo-wop ballad Shooting Blind.
After so much passion, I was pretty stoked for the husband-wife indie pop romantics of Mates of State , but their chirpy synth pop harmonies failed to impress. I'm sure Kori Gardner (the girly half) and Jason Hammel are just dandy as individuals, and Gardner would make a wicked frontwoman, but there was something too cute about the pair.
Ten minutes of an indie rock take on Hansonish carnival candy music is cool, but an hour sent me into sugar shock.