Cass McCombs & Arbouretum @ Knitting Factory, 4/8/07
So this Knitting Factory Front Room then. Big, clean, a few weird angles, but, overall, not bad, not bad. I like. Has spades of potential to grow into a spot to catch up and comers. But they might kill the flatscreens with ESPN, at least during the performances. Last time I was here (a year ago? More? Ed.? How the fuck should I know? –Ed.) the pints were pulled into glass and there were free internet devices. Both are gone now (but I only miss the glasses). Still good set of taps behind the bar though. Also, I have a fond memory of eating deep-fried calamari with a tasty garlic aioli in this room at some point pre-9/11. Tonight’s crowd is smallish but enthusiastic. This Arbouretum/Cass McCombs gig is the indierock cognoscenti’s pick for a lazy Easter Sunday. These are musicheads moreso than scenesters. A good thing, generally. Maybe they all read today’s Times cover piece with the breaking revelation that the Strip is a wasteland and wound up here, daring to venture (one block) east of La Brea. There are maybe 85 heads here per Ryan’s count, but I have to affix a +/- 5% margin of error–1% x n beers consumed–to his math. Not to mention he is distracted out of his gourd by this bobbing stage light stencil that projects what looks like the Millennium Falcon’s gunner window. Both bands are affiliated with labels (Thrill Jockey, 4AD) whose solid reputations precede, so that helps. Overall vibe and styles are a touch more relaxed tonight; we are here for the tunes.
Up first, Arbouretum, the guys on Thrill Jockey. It’s the familiar guitar/guitar/bass/drums/2 guys with beards set up but it’s quickly clear there’s some underlying soul in their sound. I dig their sound right off the bat. Their rock is mellow and meditative, but opens up and gets and loud when need be. Kind of swampy, kind of country, but never dirgey or dull. Dense but not heavy, if that makes sense. They grind away on chord cycles on hot electric guitars, hand it off the bassist and then riff and arpeggiate on top, building in intensity. Their drummer is solid and holds the energy up. On one number, the two guitarists work a kind of dueling arpeggios thing with some shades of Television (the band, not the ones on the wall in here) that’s real nice.
Cass McCombs is this guy that relocated to L.A. to make his latest album. Just like the rest of us. He’s a young good-looking guy with a guitar, of which there are probably 900,000 in L.A. But if all you are is just a good-looking guy with a guitar, you may as well be Duncan Sheik. And no one wants to be Duncan Sheik. Duncan Sheik doesn’t even want to be Duncan Sheik. But the appeal of Cass is an essential weirdness in his tunes. And of course, weird is good. Look at your records. The weird ones are the good ones. Whatever it might be–an unexpected chord modulation, some strange instrumentation, a warble in the voice here and there–he builds little tunes up and injects them with his own special sauce: the weirdness. At his core though, he’s a great songwriter. I see him as a continuation of certain lineage of singular one-man operations like Edwyn Collins or Eric Matthews. I am sure that L.A. will be glad to claim him as an adopted son in the near future. He’ll fill the Front Room in due time.