Cass McCombs St. James Hall Vancouver Mar 25, 2019

This morning there is a pep in my step. A feeling of lingering contentedness and tenderness pervades my world view. It’s almost like the feeling, “Yes, I can go on,” that comes after spending a day with a really good friend or a night receiving unexpected yet welcome affection.

The venue of the Cass McCombs concert last night here in Vancouver, British Columbia was St James Hall, a churchy-community meeting center on a quiet, green residential street one block off a main shopping thoroughfare. The humble sanctuary-like gathering space had pews in the back and a balcony filled with pews as well. The neighborhood’s called Kitsilano and the stage has a large A-frame architectural accent that adds to the visual composition of the performance by drawing one’s eye upward—toward heaven, toward the Sacred Heart? As such, it was a dry show, and Sam Evian in his sleepy, theology school dropout affect respectfully pointed that out. Later, about half way into Cass’s set, Dan Horne produce a bottle of bourbon, and after he and Cass took a pull, he set it down on the stage within reach of the crowd, and some front-rowers helped themselves to it.

Cass seemed like he was in good spirits, playful and smiley with the crowd, wearing his signature white satin lounge coat over a shirt screen-printed with the visage of Humphrey Bogart. Dan Horne looked kinda fucked up but he was jamming hard. The keyboardist, Frank LoCrasto, looked spaced out from the night before but did not miss a beat. The long-faced drummer from Sam Evian’s group joined Cass and the gang.

During Cass’s set, Sam Evian played the sax on about three or four songs, including “Medicine,” “Absentee,” and “American Canyon Sutra.” Sam’s entire band joined Cass onstage for his encore performance of Rancid Girl. Cass didn’t play much of the old stuff at all (interesting when compared to the set lists from the previous shows of the tour), but a lot of the songs stretched out twice or three times their recorded length so he went deep rather than wide. 

Jam-o-licious is the best way to describe last night’s performance, a motif most likely established earlier in the tour and one whose evolution I look forward to witnessing throughout the next 5 shows. They jammed out hard on almost every song.

I mean, have you ever heard music so expressive, instruments so perfectly harmonized, bass plucking so deep, and guitar shredding so articulate that it feels like an orgasm? Orgasm meaning the pinnacle of bliss? Orgasm meaning the raw, bloody life you often feel but struggle to put into words or coherent emotions until something not based on language does it for you? I was living in the pinnacle of bliss during the jam session on “Laughter is the Best Medicine” and again on “Big Wheel.” “Medicine” was so deep and so moving that my ecstasy may have culminated in a blown fuse had it kept going.

It can’t get much better than this: the joy of seeing one’s favorite musician happy, healthy, and playing like a boss… Enjoying being in Vancouver for the first time in several years and bringing all the musicians into the fold. Even though I felt incredibly conspicuous being the only person not wearing black and denim, which held me back from taking pictures and writing down the setlist, I had an amazing experience last night, and I kept having to remind myself that the novelty I felt could partly be attributed to being in a foreign country.

Set list (this is what I have so far, and I will fill in the rest from when it gets posted—this may be out of order):

  • Sleeping Volcanoes

  • Bum Bum Bum

  • The Great Pixley Train Robbery

  • Estrella

  • I Followed The River South To What

  • Sidewalk Bop After Suicide

  • Laughter is the Best Medicine

  • Absentee

  • American Canyon Sutra

  • I’m a Shoe

  • Big Wheel

  • Brighter

  • Rounder


  • Rancid Girl