Live Review, 5/25/12: Cass McCombs and Michael Hurley Folk Out at Great American

Categories: Last Night
Erin Browner
Cass McCombs at the Great American Music Hall
Cass McCombs
Michael Hurley
Friday, May 25, 2012
Great American Music Hall

Better than: Folk-playin' street performers on the stoops of Haight-Ashbury.

The night began with a quiet, hollow Great American Music Hall, and ended with a room full of young, cool, and pretty buzzed San Franciscans watching a jam session in awe. It wasn't what you'd expect from a folk show.

"Michael Hurley is a legend" wasthe most commonly heard phrase of the night. Multiple Hurley lovers lined the stage and sat cross-legged on the floor as the 72-year-old, bandana-wearing, whiskered singer-songwriter took the stage. With the company of his worn, red Roy Smeck guitar (accessorized with a red feather), Hurley cooed in a raspy voice to a younger audience. The age gap was endearing.

Erin Browner
Michael Hurley, a folk legend, at the Great American Music Hall

The crowd of twenty- and thirtysomethings respectfully tuned in to Hurley's lyrics about blue hills and baby darlins. With their slow momentum, all of Hurley's songs sounded quite bluesy. But the mood shifted when Hurley incorporated some jokes to his lyrics: "Get a job, get a job" he repeated multiple times, until the crowd's gaze was broken by bursts of laughter.

We heard a lot of talk among the crowd about remembering grandfathers and other relatives connected to folk music or the South. By the end of Hurley's set, he was awarded with lingering applause, whoops, and whistles. Hurley humbly thanked the audience and asked them to check out his records, which are printed with his original watercolor art.

Erin Browner
Michael Hurley's original watercolor art pressed on his records for sale

By this time, half of the venue was filled with latecomers. The lights lowered a few minutes before Cass McCombs and his bandmates made it to the stage. Most guests had had a drink or two by then, and began sporadically clapping in hopes McCombs would take the stage sooner.

McCombs and his four supporting members suited up and started slow, with songs off of his newest album, Humor Risk. The bright white lights presented the musicians as silhouettes -- difficult to see but dreamy to watch.

Erin Browner
Cass McCombs at the Great American Music Hall

The folk band mixed in some rock 'n' roll moments to hype up the crowd, but overall it was a largely predictable performance. McCombs did stray off the recorded versions of his songs to jam a bit, letting different instruments take the lead. Fans tapped their feet and swayed with the music.

Erin Browner
A silhouette of a supporting musician of Cass McCombs at the Great American Music Hall

If McCombs fans have never seen him live, it's worth it, at least once. But we walked away on Friday night with a stronger impression of Hurley, the dear old legend.

Critic's Notebook

A suggestion for the crowd: The random clapping session before Cass McCombs went on stage was a little annoying.

Opener: We would say that Hurley outshone McCombs, but opening bands and headlining bands aren't competing for a better performance -- are they?

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Location Info


Great American Music Hall

859 O'Farrell, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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