Cass McCombs The Fillmore San Francisco April 5, 2019

It was a goodbye before it even started

Some things are over before they begin, some things happen exactly as they’re supposed to, somethings have been this way and will be this way forever. That was last night at the Fillmore. I kept watching Cass in his white lounge jacket, bathed in the purple and blue tones of the lights, smoke curling through the white spotlights that cut through the jewel tones, thinking, “I’ve been here before, this is the way it is supposed to be.” Was it because it was at a venue as familiar as the Fillmore? Was it because of the signature glowing light boards at back of the stage? In some ways, it was my least favorite show; in all ways, it was exactly what I needed the show to be.

The Set and Setting

In addition to the two tickets I bought at the box office back in November when I attended the Phosphorescent show at the Fillmore, I won two tickets so I brought a bunch of friends along: Kai, Jackie, and Margaret, none of whom had even listened to Cass’s music before that day, if at all. It was really cool to have my peeps there but we were all on different wavelengths; the most I can hope is I can turn someone onto what has been life-giving for me. Sometimes it works, and sometime it doesn’t. Nonetheless my buddy from the night before, Patrick, got to the Fillmore at 7 pm and held it down consistently since his arrival. He and I were admittedly low energy from blowing all our chips the night before, but we rallied and the music gave us life.

While waiting for Sam Evian to come on, Kai, Jackie and I went to one of the poster rooms upstairs at the Fillmore, where I had somehow never been, and were treated to a singer with a guitar up there, and where I first spotted special guest Bongo Sidibe. At nine I knew it was time so we headed downstairs. I hung with Patrick at the front rail for Sam and co. to do their thing, again joined by Hannah Cohen, which was amazing and warm and heartfelt. It made me so happy to see those guys knock it out of the park for their last night on the tour, and for their first time at the Fillmore. I can’t wait to see what happens to them next, and to catch them on tour again.

There was again a long intermission between Sam Evian and Cass McCombs. I fell back to my group four rows from the front and got impatient, but excited. There was a lot going on and the crowd kept morphing.

Once Cass’s set started, it was the typical ambiance-producing Frank LoCrasto singularly on keyboards, and then Cass and band joined him. It made me reflect that I think they did this at every show I went to except in Santa Cruz. From there the set took on the shape of the sets I had come to expect, opening with “Sleeping Volcanoes,” “The Great Pixley Train Robbery,” and “Bum Bum Bum.” For this show, we had two special guests: Bongo Sidibe and Joel Robinow, the former of which made his appearance on “Bum.” Obviously missing was “Estrella,” but in addition to “Real Life,” they got to “Morning Star” again… after he played “Morning Star” in LA, I looked more closely at the lyrics, which are quite sexy, and so it was a special treat to hear it again.

Special Songs

The first special number of the night was “County Line,” on which it felt like Cass was drawing it out to be as excruciatingly slow as possible. I flashed-back to when he stated in an interview that he just wrote it to write a sad song. In the moments it was playing, the emphasis on down-tempo felt like it was urging us to straddle ecstasy and pain—he was bringing us to the brink of something. I hadn’t heard “County Line" on the tour at all yet, but I have heard it before, namely that fateful night in Eagle Rock in February 2011—which was before Wit’s End even came out. A couple songs later, after pumping us up with “Big Wheel,” Cass gave us one from the new album I had not heard on the tour at all, and had been missing: “Tying Up Loose Ends.” It was at this point I shoved my way back up to Patrick at the front rail to confirm with him that the song had not been played yet. I understand why such a summative song can’t go at the end of the concert, or at the end of the album for that matter, but it felt like this show was the one and only show that deserved “Tying Up Loose Ends” because it is the end of the tour and now it is time to transition to what’s next.

Painstakingly Slow

Above all, the show last night was painstakingly slow—it could have been me and my mindset, my tiredness, my aching body, and some of the weird vibes I was getting from the crowd—but unlike the past tour dates that I brought friends or family, all of whom deeply enjoyed it, my friends that came along last night were challenged to stay engaged. The band took their time tinkering between songs, setting up, getting things tuned in. Maybe they were trying to prolong this last night as well: Cass did mention he hoped to do us good, having earlier posted on Instagram and nostalgic post about the Fillmore, the tour’s highlights, and its close—was he getting perfectionist?

At the end of the show, the encore again was “Rancid Girl,” but I love the way Cass McCombs gets animated and articulates when singing that song so I wasn’t mad… Patrick rolled his eyes a little bit, “Really? Rancid Girl for every encore of the tour?” “Maybe they’ll do a second encore,” I responded. And they did! After “Rancid Girl” Cass kinda looked around, “Time for one more?” and we’re yelling hell yeah. One more it was… “Brighter!” So good. I thought I had heard “Brighter” at one of the other shows, but I can’t remember which ones and some of the setlists online are incomplete. Nonetheless everyone loves that song and it was the perfect positive note to send us out into the night, and to look to the next album I know he is already working on.

Setlist from

  • Sleeping Volcanoes

  • The Great Pixley Train Robbery

  • Bum Bum Bum (with Bongo Sidibe)

  • Morning Star (with Bongo Sidibe)

  • Laughter Is the Best Medicine (with Bongo Sidibe)

  • Absentee

  • Real Life

  • County Line

  • American Canyon Sutra

  • Big Wheel (with Bongo Sidibe)

  • Tying Up Loose Ends

  • In a Chinese Alley

  • Cry

  • Not The Way

  • Rounder


  • Rancid Girl

  • Brighter!