During his July 25 concert at Millennium Park, Ted Leo gave the audience some good advice about what to do later that night: Go see Cass McCombs at the Hideout. McCombs has developed into a songwriter of great subtlety and artistry over the past several years, and his latest album, Wit’s End, is a beautiful collection of soft, sometimes whispered ballads with intricate arrangements. McCombs seems to be taking inspiration from the classic American Songbook style of songwriting as much as he is from the chamber pop music of bands such as the Zombies.
Last week at the Hideout, McCombs and his band played these songs and older tunes with a loose, at times apparently improvisational feel, creating the sensation that they were sculpting each song on the spot. Playing a bit like a jazz combo, the musicians took turns soloing during some of the songs. McCombs sang most of the songs with a light touch, softly hitting the high notes with just a touch of vibrato in his falsetto. The lights were set on dim — which was not helpful with my efforts to take photographs, but did fit the music’s late-night vibe. After starting out quietly, the 90-minute set stretched out into country and folk rock and then more rocking jams. It all wrapped up at a pretty late hour for a Monday night — just past 1 a.m. — but it was dreamy rather than sleepy.
The opening act, Lower Dens, is the new band led by singer-songwriter Jana Hunter, and the group played a cool set to start out the evening, climaxing with some music that had a strong Krautrock pulse.