Granted we got there late, just as Iron & Wine had finished pulling their instruments onto the stage. There wasn’t the time to sit back, watch the rabble in anticipation, witness the languor and rising irritation of people actually watching the opening act, take in the excitement of a show imminent. I don’t know what music played between sets. I mean, literally we sat down three minutes before the show began. We entered the lobby just as the college kids were filtering down to the bar for their third or fourth beer.
The air filled with the unplaceable floating odor of beer. The way breath smells, but collectively, as though every other mouth in the place had just tasted hops. The way my grandfather’s house smells after five p.m. It’s a smell I sort of miss, and the kind that’s even more prevalent in bars in this state since the smoking ban went into effect. I rarely drink anymore, since getting together with C, and it gives me a headache almost every time. Before I even finish the second glass of whatever I have. I had wanted to drink at the show, but actually forgot. It was this way with smoking as well when I did that. I often forget to partake of the vices.
I don’t do this much anymore either, going to concerts, but it’s only because of my mounting fear of crowds. My concern with coughing not kept localized, of massive infection brought on by a sneeze. There’s just something unsanitary about stuffing so many people into any one place. But that’s me. So why do other people go to a show?
1. Because other people are going, i.e. socialization. But I hate these people, there for the conversation, the getting dressed, the ones who often stand with their back to the band.
2. Because of love for the particular band. Okay, I’ll buy this. I was in love with Tori Amos once. Once I would have given anything to be in a room with her, even if there were rows and rows of people between us. (I’m only a little embarrassed by this confession. It was this way with David Bowie as well, but he rarely toured in my concert-going years.)
3. Because of the band’s reputation for an incredible stage presence. _Standing in the Way of Control_ excluded because it is nothing short of pure mastery, I continued to buy The Gossip’s CDs every time even though I never listened to them. While songs from the early albums came off sounding pretty much the same to me, the shows were exhilarating moments of rock and roll I wanted to live inside. Even before Beth Ditto took her clothes off, I was madly in love with her. I worried Brace Paine would turn his ankle, I stared. Kathy Mendonça hot on drums. I mean the show was mostly Beth, and the madness of the music that came off too controlled in the studio, but they were all always in top form. Which leads me to
4. To see what a live show can add to/rise above/yield something different or more than the recording we know.
To this end, which was my reason for going to the show last night, Iron & Wine, sadly, did not deliver. The band seemed tired, anti-social even, which I respect, but not so much on stage (unless one can turn it into a kind of freak show beauty a la Cat Power). The songs were well rehearsed, of course, but I felt like I was sitting in a crowd listening to the album. You know, actually, remembering that one trip to the Lillith Fair in ’96, some audiences want to hear exactly what they know. I am not this audience. If I want the CD as I know it I’ll sit in my bedroom, reading or doing other things while listening. I go to a show to get a feeling, experience something I can’t get at home. The only thing that fit this bill last night was my disdain for twentysomething strangers. At home I could have made them play my favorite song. And play it again if I wanted to hear it again. So there was no benefit, not really. I felt like I was listening to a bland studio session, with a few notable drawbacks to this even.
My theory. This show was sandwiched between Seattle and Vancouver, as almost any show we get is. We are not a large town. We are no city. There is nothing metropolitan here. But we aren’t the backwoods some acts seem to take us for. This was a throwaway show. Everyone seemed to be taking it easy. Perhaps someone was ill. I heard something about Sam Beam not feeling well. But the worst offense was that it seemed like they gave the sound guy the night off. I don’t know much about these things, but it seems that if you have a dozen or so instruments, you might have your own sound guy to work it all out. I would. Last night whoever was running sound had little clue what the sound should have been. Instead of the intricate harmony of so many instruments, it was a bit of harmony in the background drowned out by the screeching of two fighting cats. With the treble of the slide guitar and violin turned up twice as loud, everything else was lost and I felt like my ears should have bled.
Things I actually enjoyed:
1. The music, sure. Problems with the sound, but still a good listen. Better than listening to Rainer bark, which is what I am hearing right now.
2. That, like a lot of music I love, I realized even more fully how voice is generally used as just another instrument in many songs. Perhaps this was more fully accented by the fact that, with the fighting cats, voice was relegated to the bank fence as all the other instruments were.
3. The woman yelling STEVE, STEVE, STEVE, pacing back and forth two rows ahead of me for about ten minutes.
4. That there was less required clapping than usual. I do admire a band who will provide a musical liaison (or even some random sound) in between songs.
5. Figuring out that his hair looks pretty much as mine did in junior high, perhaps with slightly more frizz and, of course, sans the beard.
6. Trying to figure out the inexplicable, yet not unwanted mass exodus 2/3rds of the way through the show. This I finally decided could be attributed to the short attention span of the college student. (And I felt bad for C. Every now and then I get a hint of what it must be like to live in a town where everyone you run into is a current or former student. I mean, I’m horrified enough when I run into students I’ve had when I’m not expecting it. And this only happens once or twice a year.)
7. But the best moment came with the standard yelling of Freebird! from out in the crowd. Sam Beam threatened to play, as apparently he had the night before when prompted. “What else can I do if you ask for it?” Small laughs in the crowd. Then someone yelled, “What about Hot for Teacher?” In this moment the crowd got small, so small, all of us in on one thing, all understanding, everyone laughed, Sam laughed, actually lost control for a second or two. It’s a moment like this, some kind of transcendence, that I need if I’m going to venture out to a show, if I’m going to stay up past my bedtime. Unfortunately this is the only moment of this that I got.
When Sam Beam joked, referring to the show the night before, about having played Freebird, “you should have been there, you should have seen us last night,” I have to say I had to believe him. I hear it was a really great show.