Cass Mccombs with Sleepy Very Sleepy At: Cafe 939, Tuesday
The first time you hear “Dreams Come True Girl’’ — the closest that California troubadour of the folky astral planes Cass McCombs has ever come to writing a proper pop hit — it might not make sense. It’s a song that sounds ripped out of its time — or, rather, gently coaxed through a musical wormhole from the era of AM pop radio. On Tuesday, McCombs and his five-piece band put the loping number through an extended excursion that pushed its parameters into jazz, forlorn country-style slide guitar, and barely there folk whispering.
Mixed in with a selection of songs spanning McCombs’s sizable and varied body of work — including songs from his freshly released album, the sullenly resplendent “Wit’s End’’ — the song sounds more at home. Far from derivative in the traditional context, McCombs’s work is a musical shoebox filled with shuffled memories. He’s like an Elliott Smith whose obsessions extend beyond the Beatles. His 90-minute set drew on selections from his entire body of work — and inspiration from the works of countless others.
The fragile “Buried Alive’’ sounded like a foreboding Air song with the electronics stripped out and then stitched through with the wending piano line of “Karma Police’’ — imagine one of the sad robots from “OK Computer’’ broken down to its bare component parts. Elsewhere, McCombs and his band conjured a tired, neutered Chris Isaak, barely summoning the willpower for one last beachside seduction.
On the slumbering “Windfall,’’ they played like the gentlest jazzy country shack band in the tropics, with McCombs half-singing/half-mumbling, “Even the birds are tired.’’ Listening to songs like these at home, many of which revolve around two- or three-note bass lines, it’s easier to get lost in their moody simplicity; but live, in the nearly pitch black, silent room of Cafe 939, a little went a long way. It wasn’t until the end of the set, with the “Sweet Jane’’-style chord progression of “Bobby, King of Boys Town,’’ or the messy rock injection of “I Cannot Lie,’’ that the band, and the audience, emerged from their slumber.
Boston four-piece Sleepy Very Sleepy impressed with a set of piano-led, slow and low bass rumbling that broke into occasional cathartic heights.