XII. "Iron and Wine at Webster Hall; Friday 6/17"
When you are one of those people who value the anonymity of the crowd so very much that you are forced by some natural predilection to walk everywhere with headphones on, deciding what music to listen to on the way to a concert is a shitty, frustrating two minutes of walking down the sidewalk, furiously spinning the track pad of an iPod and being forced to actually participate in what the rest of the world is hearing. Balancing on the backs of monstrous gray whales spouting dark trees like water.
Last night I got home from work at about 7PM and sat down with a glass of wine. I went to Webster Hall's website to see what time the Iron and Wine show was starting, and found that, because the show was 16 and over, doors had opened at 6:30. What the fuck. I blame Zach Braff and that sort-of funny movie with a soundtrack that is directly ruining my concert experience. I don't even want to go to a Shins show anymore, not because the band is doing well, but because I'll have to stand next to some ugly 17 year old girl in new Express jeans and way too much glitter on her face.
Yes, I know I am a music snob. I know that that girl has just as much a right to be at a Shins show as I do, probably more of a right, actually, since I've already seen them so many times. But that doesn't make me feel better. If I had it my way, every band I wanted to see would play at the Crocodile, and the criteria for getting in would be whether or not you voted in the last election. If you weren't old enough to vote in the last election, there's always a Kane Hodder or Schoolyard Heroes show to catch (rock!) or if you forgot to vote, or just didn't, then go home, because I don't like you.
There's a line I love from one of my favorite records of all time, The Velvet Underground and Nico, where Lou Reed speaks/sings in that gravelly-optimistic tone of his, "Gonna take a walk down to Union Square / You never know what you're gonna find there." It was a line that made me want to go to Union Square as soon as I moved to New York, and, as luck would have it, Webster Hall is only about five minutes from the subway that takes me from my apartment to the place where I never know what I'll find.
I'm not run, run, running, but I am walking through the square, adorned with pride in a Mariners' cap I bought from a Lids in Times Square with money from my recent college graduation. I have about seven dollars in my pocket, four of which is in two dollar bills. Just enough for a beer, or just enough to buy a box of cereal and half a gallon of milk. Guess which I bought?
Stepping now towards the show, I take a wrong turn and have to turn around. I forget whether it's west of east on 13th street.
Now there, now there is a line, now there is another line to get in the side door…now there is a line at the bar, and now you are in the concert, at a venue to which you've never been, buying a five dollar can of Budweiser and thinking the lighting rig is much more elaborate than other venues of this size.
You imagine the 9:30 club in DC with the décor of the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville, and you think that's a good description. You imagine Neumo's in Seattle with the décor of the Paramount Theater, and you think that's as well a good description. Welcome to Webster Hall.
Sam Beam takes the stage, alone, and is met by a chorus of applause. This is his second night at Webster Hall, and he makes comments, Yes, he is feeling better, Yes, he will play some different songs, No, you don't have to shout to him which ones, to the people whom were obviously making a midweek weekend out of the Iron and Wine shows.
Beam is, in my obsessively critical and cynical opinion at least, best successful at his art when he is fully in the vein in which he is best known: Quiet, lo-fi, minimalist songs which echo in Southern Gothic themes. Pasted images run the narratives of the best songs of the night, particularly "Jesus the Mexican Boy" and "Fever Dream," while his more self-envelope pushing tracks, such as "Woman King" and "Evening on the Ground (Lilith's Song)" off I & W's most recent release, the Woman King EP, were pushed to rocking-ness by a band six members strong, boasting sometimes two drummers.
The confliction with which I left the show came from the fact that several of the songs performed that night had been notably changed from their original forms — not just in an adaption to being played with a full band, but seemingly a straying from genre entirely. "Bird Stealing Bread" was suddenly a song no longer off of the brilliant Creek that Drank the Cradle record, but like something from a Jimmy Buffet box set. "Woman King" was dark and menacing, and "Love and Some Verses" was no longer the sweet and sentimental mid-album release from Our Endless Numbered Days, but seemed rather to be pushed by Beam's arsenal of multi-instrumentalists towards a Nine Inch Nails tune. Dark, and then really dark, the line, "May I be weaved in your hair?" was no longer a lover's request, but a stalkers threat. "Some creepy ass shit," is how I remember putting it in my notebook.
But the set closed with "My Lady's House," another track off Woman King that is probably the most closely related to pre-Garden State Iron and Wine (I don't really have to remind everyone that his b-side for "Such Great Heights" by the Postal Service is now the wedding song of the hip right now, do I?) than anything else off Woman King. And just Beam and his wife sang the song, and it was beautiful as a black and white, flickering 1950's TV set image of a bird, stealing bread right out from under someone's nose.
You walk out of the club and reflect on how the show was magnificent, how "Jesus the Mexican Boy" and "Fever Dream" were beautiful to the point where beautiful just doesn't get any prettier. And you think about how Beam really made some huge moves from with his older songs towards really making use of his band. Was it bad, or just unexpected? It did make for a more dynamic set, and the crowd seemed to love it, despite the lack of "Such Great Heights" from the main set. But then you think Hey, maybe he played it last night, Hey, maybe that's what the encore was, because, yeah, you don't stay for encores since, Hey, if someone has to walk off stage to get my attention for the last song of the night, then the people walking off had better be Pearl Jam or Radiohead. And those aren't really encores, those are shit/smoke/fill-your-glass breaks.
You walk down 13th, then back up to Union Square. You never know what you're going to find there, and when you get there, you find a guy named Eddie, who just came back from the show too, and you talk about it. Eddie loved the Paul Simon-like, Graceland-esque version of "Teeth in the Grass," which on I & W's last record Eddie thought was a little bit lacking of "something." You think about it, and think, Yeah, that was pretty sweet. Good show. An evening well spent.