Baltimore-based singer/songwriter Cass McCombs is renowned for his bleak, urbane lyrics and melancholy musicality. There's a cool sense of distance to some of his saddest, smartest songs.
There's ambition beneath the laconic surface, though. McCombs is driven enough to have released two albums in 2011, Humor Risk and Wit's End; energetic enough to write complicated, cosmopolitan, humorous songs that plumb valuable emotional depths; and calculating enough to plan a wildly entertaining tour with one-man-jug-band opening act Frank Fairfield. The whole wise and weary shebang wound up at Kung Fu Necktie on Sunday night.
It was an ambitious set, all right - diverse, too, jumping from California-country twang to a metronomic groove reminiscent of the Velvet Underground (extending even to an occasional Lou Reed-like lyrical smugness) to a ringing guitar sound that would have made George Harrison beam.