Show Review: Cass McComb w/ Arbouretum at The EARL – 12/9

photo by Hart Roberts

photo by Hart Roberts

Over the years, Cass McCombs’ music has become a folktale in itself — constantly evolving, hitchhiking in and out of unfamiliar territories. Arguably the most complete album in his decade+ repertoire, 2013’s Big Wheel and Others is a wonderful manifestation of the flexibility and range of his music genres. A little bit of folk-rock, a whole lot of alt-country, and with a pinch of jazz, it’s as characteristic as its predecessors but way more approachable. This past week, the storyteller’s journey crossed paths with The EARL, performing his first Atlanta gig in support of his new album.

Spending a night out at East Atlanta’s EARL is always a treat. A PBR-infused dive bar where edgy Inkaholics and flannelled hipsters intertwine in perfect smoke-filled harmony. A 50-50 chance you’ll stumble upon anything from an up-and-coming indie band to a burlesque show to the Air Sex Championship. Needless to say, it’s got character and plenty of characters.

The back room venue was cozy, dark, and intimate enough to walk all the way up to the stage. Opening act and support came from Baltimore-based group, Arbouretum, who recently unleashed their new album, Coming Out of the Fog. “The Long Night” and “Renouncer” demonstrate the unique brand of psychedelic solos and fuzz laden folk-rock sounds spearheaded by lead man, Dave Heumann.

Backlit by mesmerizing canvases that flanked the stage, McCombs and the surrounding ambiance quickly absorbed the crowd, almost trancelike. Flickering lights formed mystifying silhouettes as McCombs’ delicate voice was detailed perfectly in the mix. The show kicked into high gear with heavy beats by accomplished drummer Joe Russo on “Big Wheel” — an album highlight lyrically reeking of diesel, truck stops, and the wide open road. Russo described the band’s sound as “hella hot,” ecstatic for his first EARL reunion since his time with The Gene Ween Band in 2009.

A personal Wheel favorite, “There Can Be Only One”, had a melodic chord progression bringing back sounds resemblance of a 90’s Primitive Radio Gods cassette tape. The beautifully tangled guitars of McCombs and Dan Lead, mixed with the soothing bass lines of Jon Shaw, warmed the heart and soul. Darker sounds on “Joe Murder” and “Home on the Range” plus the dialed-in vocal harmonies on “Morning Star” helped wrap up a 90-minute set that was difficult to peel away from.

Encoring with the stunning “County Line” from album, WIT’S END, was perfectly fitting. This hitchhiker’s time was up. Another moment passing as quickly as it came, like fading road signs in the rearview mirror. For McCombs, his storytelling is not dead and gone. His wanderlust lifestyle will continue to blend seamlessly into songs steeped in coast-to-coast nomadic travels, heartbreak, religious skepticism, and so much more. The way the best folktales do.