Iron & Wine - Live @ Radio City Music Hall, 01/29/2011

Posted by Greg , Monday, January 31, 2011 2:45 PM

When I last saw Iron & Wine live, at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA (outside of Philadelphia), Sam Beam was drowning.  His face was covered by an enormous beard and even more enormous head of hair, and his songs were swallowed up in dense layers of instrumentation.  He was surrounded by what seemed like a dozen other musicians on stage, and his interactions with the crowd were minimal at best.  Yelling out requests for classic songs seems common at Iron & Wine concerts (and really, at anyone else's, too), but Beam would only occasionally respond to these shouts of old song titles with mumbled remarks like "That's one" and "That's another one."  While the show itself was great, it felt like Beam was retreating into himself, hiding from his audience with as many outward layers of other...stuff...as he could muster.

The sold-out Radio City Music Hall saw a very different Sam Beam.  Beard and hair trimmed short, he walked out on stage in a suit and minimal ensemble - a banjo player, a pianist, and two backup singers.  The crowd greeted him warmly, and Beam asked possibly the greatest opening line I've ever heard at a rock show:

"Are you ready to get fucking mellow?"

The band began with straightforward arrangements of "He Lays in the Reins," found on Beam's 2005 collaboration with Calexico, and new song "Half Moon."  I say "straightforward" because the band has developed a reputation for playing wildly different live versions from those found on the studio albums, especially since the tour supporting 2007's The Shepherd's Dog.  Thus, after playing a more ominous "Fever Dream" and stripped-down, saxophone-less "Big Burned Hand," Beam thanked the audience for appreciating the new arrangements, adding, "A song should be a living thing," possibly a response to fans who gripe about deviations from note-for-note renditions of Our Endless Numbered Days.

Beam seemed to be in a great mood, joking with the crowd in a style reminiscent of the late Mitch Hedberg.  After someone yelled a request for a song I couldn't hear (but I'm guessing was "Freebird"), Beam laughed and said, "Are you serious?  Get that shit out of here.  Do you eat the same thing every day?  This is New York!"

After performing the always pretty "My Lady's House," he invited another six musicians on stage - a saxophone/flute, baritone sax, trumpet, bass, and two drummers - to complete the rest of his band.  Beam was not about to be overwhelmed by this ensemble, though.  He stood confidently front-and-center, with the band arrayed in a semi circle behind him.  Despite the large backing band, Beam carried himself with an easygoing swagger, a frontman fully in control of the show.  It was a display of tremendous growth as a performer from his days of whispering confessionals into a home demo recorder.

Throughout the beginning of the set I had been talking about capturing some of the show on my iPhone.  So, as the band started to play the most upbeat rock n roll I've ever heard from Iron & Wine, my wife whispered, "Maybe you should record this one, whatever it is."  As the vocals came in, we looked at each other in shock - they were playing "Love and Some Verses," the song we danced to at our wedding just six months ago, and at first neither of us recognized it.



The alternate arrangements did not stop there.  The audience was treated to a Caribbean-flavored "House by the Sea," a reverb-heavy dirge of "Sea and the Rhythm," and a lounge-style "Cinder and Smoke."  Overall they sounded great, particularly Kiss Each Other Clean b-side "Summer in Savannah."  Next to the song's name on the setlist I was writing, my only note was "epic."

After the band left the stage, Beam returned for a solo encore.  He asked the audience whether they wanted to hear "the short one or the long one."  Of course the universal response was for the long one, yielding a heartwarming and poignant performance of "The Trapeze Swinger."

This was my first concert at Radio City, and I have to say the sound there is absolutely fantastic.  The only odd moment of the night was when opener Edie Brickell answered a text message during her set.  (In her defense, it was from her daughter, asking whether Brickell could drive her to a friend's house later.  "After about five songs," Brickell announced to the audience.)

Here's the entire setlist:

He Lays in the Reins
Half Moon
Fever Dream
Big Burned Hand
My Lady's House
Naked As We Came
--full ensemble introduced--
Tree by the River
Love and Some Verses
House by the Sea
The Sea and the Rhythm
Me and Lazarus
Summer in Savannah
Boy with a Coin
Rabbit Will Run
Glad Man Singing
Cinder and Smoke
--band leaves for solo encore--
The Trapeze Swinger

What do you think about artists playing alternate versions of their songs?  Would you rather hear a song similar to the way it was recorded, or do you prefer to hear a new rendition?

Bright Eyes, The People's Key [stream]

Posted by Greg 12:29 PM

Bright Eyes' The People's Key is available for streaming in its entirety at NPR until its release date of February 15.  The folks at NPR seem pretty keen on it:
This is the best record Bright Eyes has ever made. In fact, it's the best record the band's frontman, Conor Oberst, has ever been a part of. Publicists like to say as much any time an artist releases a new album, but in this case, it's actually true. The People's Key is a career-defining work of art.

Brent Knopf leaves Menomena

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, January 18, 2011 10:20 PM

Brent Knopf, one of the founding members of the indie rock group Menomena, has left the band.  According to the band's website:

After 10 years of fruit­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion, Brent Knopf has decided to part ways with Menom­ena to focus on Ramona Falls and other cre­ative pur­suits. We want to thank Brent for his vast con­tri­bu­tions over the years and wish him noth­ing but hap­pi­ness in all of his future endeav­ors. All three of us look for­ward to see­ing you soon!

The March US Tour will fea­ture Paul Alcott round­ing out the quartet.
Given the tension in the band, seemingly since its inception, this is not really a surprise.  And since Ramona Falls released one of my favorite albums of 2009, Intuit, I'm not exactly broken up to know we'll be hearing more from that band soon.  (It's too early in the year to be getting bummed out about this stuff...)

Menomena - Wet and Rusting:


Ramona Falls - I Say Fever:

Okkervil River, "Wake and Be Fine"

Posted by Greg , Thursday, January 13, 2011 9:49 PM

Looks like the new Okkervil River record is not so much TBD as it is fully D.  According to the band's website, I Am Very Far will release on May 10.

The band played "Wake and Be Fine," a new song from the album on Jimmy Fallon a few nights ago:



More release dates can be found on my "Looking Ahead to 2011" page, which is updated regularly.  (Well, as regularly as I remember to do it...)

City Reign, "Making Plans" and "Out in the Cold"

Posted by Greg , Wednesday, January 12, 2011 12:26 AM

City Reign are an exciting young band from Manchester, UK.  Their first single, "Making Plans," was released back in September 2010.  New single "Out in the Cold" will be released on January 31 via their own Car Boot Records label.

I had not heard of City Reign until they sent me a preview of "Out in the Cold," but I think they're due for a tremendous breakthrough.  The band plays a brand of earnest, energetic rock not heard often enough anymore.  Songwriters Mike Grice and Chris Bull met at a Ryan Adams concert and eventually named their band after the Adams song "City Rain, City Streets."  Their catchy, guitar-based songs are propelled by a formidable rhythm section, comprised of bassist Michael Glaze and drummer Sam Jones.

Of the two singles, at first I was immediately drawn to "Making Plans," with its chugging riffs, kinetic drumming, and interwoven backing vocals.  Lead singer Chris Bull's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Idlewild frontman Roddy Woomble on this track, although Bull sounds significantly more polished and mature than Woomble did at the beginning of his career.

"Out in the Cold" is actually the catchier of the two, and is a strong follow-up single.  Its chorus - "So why won't you let me go?" - is absolutely infectious.  Like any good hook, once it's stuck in your head you will find yourself singing it over and over for days.  It should resonate strongly with fans of bands like Oasis.

People always seem to say, "I wish there was better music on the radio these days."  Folks, this is what you're looking for.

City Reign has a bright future ahead, and I am very excited to hear what's next from them.

Making Plans:


Out in the Cold:

Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean [live @ NPR]

Posted by Greg , Thursday, January 6, 2011 6:13 PM


Iron & Wine performed selections from their upcoming record, Kiss Each Other Clean, for NPR's First Listen series.  Host John Schaefer said the band played the album in its entirety front-to-back, but I don't think that's what actually happened.  The performance starts off with "Tree By the River," listed everywhere as track 3.  The band did not play leadoff single "Walking Far From Home" single, but did play b-side "Biting Your Tail."  So while it's probably not the entire album, it's still a nice sample of what to expect on January 25.

Watch

Set list:

1. "Tree by the River"
2. "Big Burned Head"
3. "Biting Your Tail"
4. "Half Moon"
5. "Monkeys Uptown"
6. "Mouth of the River"
7. "Summer in Savannah"
8. "Godless Brother in Love"
9. "Rabbit Will Run"
10. "Me and Lazarus"
11. "Boy With a Coin"
12. "Naked As We Came"

You can find an mp3 rip of the performance at The Steam Engine.

Great Lake Swimmers, "Gonna Make it Through This Year"

Posted by Greg , Monday, January 3, 2011 2:02 PM

Great Lakes Swimmers are a Canadian indie folk band, formed circa 2003 by singer/songwriter Tony Dekker.  They first caught my attention (and probably a lot of others' in America) after "Your Rocky Spine" was featured in an episode of Showtime's Weeds.  The band's most recent album, Lost Channels, was released in 2009.

For who knows how long, this song had been sitting amid the dozens of links I keep on my computer's desktop.  I just got around to listening to it while doing some end of year clean-up, and it seems shockingly appropriate now.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Gonna Make it Through This Year:

Download (right click and "Save Target As...")

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