For singer-songwriters Andrew Combs and Caitlin Roxse, a recent show at DC9 marked their post-pandemic return to the nation’s capital, with each touring behind a new album.
Combs released Sundays last year. “All these [songs],” Combs told the audience, “were written during a desperate, dark period,” when he was struggling mightily with mental health issues.
Rose’s Cazimi, which came out earlier this year, was her first album in 10 years. She was less forthcoming about the details of that period than Andrew was about his struggles, but she’s hinted at facing much of the same. Fortunately, both artists are back to writing great songs and making music, and the new songs were the cherry on top of a great evening at DC9 on June 6.
Many of the songs in both sets were infused with melancholy. Introducing “The Shift,” Andrew talked about losing a friend, fellow musician Justin Townes Earle, to fentanyl in 2020. “He was a bastard,” Combs said, “but he had a heart of gold.” Combs also described Justin to me as “hard to be around, but also the best.”
To deal with his mental health struggles, Andrew took up meditation along with seeking medical help. “I never thought I’d be writing songs about meditation,” he said, introducing “Drivel To A Dream,” which closed his set. He told the audience the song is about the expectations that go along with starting a new meditation practice.
Andrew took the stage first, opening with a new song, “(God) Less.” “Anna Please,” he explained, is “about a character from an Ingmar Bergman movie. Bonus points if you can tell me which movie.” I suspect the movie is 1969’s The Passion of Anna — it’s right there in the title — but I can’t be sure. I might have to watch the movie and find out.
Watch Andrew Combs perform “Anna Please” live for The Influences via YouTube:
Continuing with his set, he cautioned the audience that his “Firestarter” is “not to be confused with the ’90s song by Prodigy,” adding, “Very different song.” “Ideal Man” is about his struggles with masculinity, particularly in the face of becoming a father. Speaking of his kids, Andrew dedicated “Better Ways” to his “wife, who’s back at home with our two babies, one of whom has lice and the other has a fever.”
Cailin joined Andrew to sing on “Too Stoned To Cry,” which is “a very old song of mine from my first record,” 2015’s All These Dreams. The set continued with “Still Water” and also included “Down Among the Dead.”
Caitlin Rose is a second-generation musician. Her mother, Liz Rose, is a songwriter, part of the writing trio The Love Junkies, which also includes Lori McKenna. She’s quite a character, and she accompanied her songs with long, somewhat rambling stories that were tremendously entertaining, but are a bit hard to capture in a review. You really have to see and hear her yourself; her banter is a bit like a foul-mouthed Jonathan Richman.
As noted above, Caitlin, even with her winding digressions, managed to play things close to the vest. Before she started her set with “No One To Call,” she told the audience she used to be bad about sharing too much. She very purposely stayed away from the elephant room, the 10-year gap between records, not discussing what she’d been up to in those years.
“How Far Away,” she explained, “is about space and trains, and I’ve never been to either.” She should definitely try a train; I love a good train ride. “Nobody’s Sweetheart,” she “decided the other day, is actually about ghosts.” I also believe in ghosts, and I believe the spirit of Andy Kaufman is helping me write my novel about pro wrestling. Somewhere in there, there was a digression about a weird incident at a Korean tanning salon, which is one of those stories you just have to hear for yourself.
Watch Caitlin Rose perform “How Far Away” live for Lightning 100 on YouTube:
“I put so much thought into the songs,” Caitlin said, “I don’t have any” left over to talk about the songs. That’s a thing artists have to do with the album cycle, writing copy to go along with and explain the songs. (Many artists, including, famously, Bob Dylan, prefer to let the songs “speak for themselves.” Dylan, being Dylan, can do whatever he wants, but other artists don’t get the same leeway.) Caitlin started writing “Black Obsidian” in London in 2014 and finished it at her home in Nashville in 2019. It took her a long time to write because, in part, of the difficulty of rhyming “obsidian.”
“It smells super sweaty in here,” she said between songs, “but I can’t tell if it’s just me.” I did not attempt to give Caitlin the sniff test, so I cannot answer this one. “Johnny Velvet” was written in an Autozone in Amarillo, Texas. “You’re not supposed to stay in the van while they work on it,” she added. I imagine, it being Amarillo, it got rather hot in there!
Caitlin’s late stepfather was an ornery old Texan and a lifelong smoker. He loved her “Shanghai Cigarettes” because it dealt with one of his favorite things: smoking. These last three songs featured Caitlin solo, and the band returned for “Blameless,” followed by a cover of “Dallas” by the Felice Brothers. (Not to be confused with “Dallas” by the Flatlanders.) She also covered an old song, “Fool,” which is a highly collectible 45 by James Ray.
Caitlin finished her set with “Just A Clown.” When she was 9, she went to a party a farm where there was a clown who seemed to be taking on a Ziggy Stardust look, but who was also wearing a wifebeater. The punchline to this story was, “From the neck up, he was all clown, but from the neck down, he was all man.” Was this clown a clown to her? Did he amuse her? That’s a question for another day!
I’ve been wanting to see both of these artists for a while, as I’m a big fan of their music. This set was lively, as they noted, with Caitlin calling it her favorite performance on this tour. I’m glad DC gave these terrific artists a great night!