Saturday, May 18, 2013
State Theatre, Portland, Maine
I still haven’t completed decided how I felt about this show overall. That’s quite unusual. I ran into a colleague on Monday who raved about the show and said it was one of the best he’s ever seen. A different colleague yesterday afternoon said he’d been really disappointed by the show. It seems like the show was many different things to different people. I think I came down somewhere in the middle.
I got to see my concert buddy Bob the Undertaker for this show. We met over two years ago at the State Theatre at an Iron & Wine show, so it was fitting that we’d reconvene to see them again. We met up early and grabbed tacos and margaritas at Taco Escobarr before the show. We made it back to State at 6:30 and there was already a line around the corner for doors at 7. Bob and I snagged a spot just behind two sweet girls front and center along the stage barricade inside. We were pleased with our great spot up close because we knew the show was near sell out, and it would be really crowded later.
The Secret Sisters of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, took the stage. I’d seen them open for Brandi Carlile with my dear friend Tricia from the front row at Berklee Performance Center a year and a half ago in Boston. They are sweet as sugar and were so clearly thrilled by the kind audience response to their songs. I like their post WWII vibe complete with pin curls, a cover of Patsy Cline’s “Leavin’ On Your Mind,” and an Everly Brothers tune. Country to the core, I thought the audience responded well to the duo whose music is not particularly like Iron & Wine’s. T-Bone Burnett is producing their new album that will be out soon. I appreciated their dark tune “Bad Habit” and loved the spiritual “Bury Me.” They wrapped their set with “Tonight You Belong to Me” a cappella. The crowd was attentive and really listened and sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers seemed pleased as punch and kind of surprised by the warm reception.
I’d been surprised last time I saw Iron & Wine because there were twelve people in the band (including the fabulous Marketa Irglova of Once fame). I’d hoped for Sam, a guitar, and maybe a backup vocalist. At this show there were thirteen onstage. Sam Beam was the bandleader with three backup singers, three string players, three horn players, a drummer, a pianist, and a bassist. Thanks to some awesome audience members, you can go online and listen to the night’s setlist at setlist.fm.
Sam and the band played eight songs together before Sam’s four song solo acoustic set. Sam asked the crowd if anyone had a song in particular they really wanted to hear. The crowd went kind of wild. That’s when I realized that although the full band show is entertaining in a way and fills the room (man, those horn players can really move!), Iron & Wine fans (like me) yearn to hear Sam solo. The crowd got a little aggressive with their requests, but Sam handled it like a champ. He kept thanking us over and over again all night for being there and chatted a lot with us. I felt involved in the show because I was so close to the stage. Sam smiled and waved back at me and even took the request from the girl in front of us for “Bird Stealing Bread” during his solo set who Bob and I pointed out to him.
I was so happy to hear “Tree by the River,” “Godless Brother In Love,” “Sixteen, Maybe Less” (solo, with a little “Freebird” thrown in for good measure), “Boy With a Coin” (solo, with a little “Beat It” thrown in), “Naked As We Came” (solo), and The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” (with just Sam and the string section). The crowd seemed really excited to hear “Jezebel,” too. Sam said that he’d been surprised by the success of “Naked As We Came.” He wondered how such a dark song had gotten so popular. Sam chuckled and poked fun at himself a fair amount during his solo set. He made a couple of mistakes and said “the game is up—I’ve learned to lean on the band.” A guy in the crowd got Sam’s attention and threw his demo onstage per Sam’s request. It whizzed past his head and Sam joked, “Your music almost killed me!”
“Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me” was a great last song for the night. It featured the backup singers and their lush harmonies. The crowd stomped for an encore, and Sam came out and played “Sodom, South Georgia” for us. I was thrilled to hear it. I also would have loved to hear “The Trapeze Swinger,” “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” and “Walking Far From Home,” but I left content. I got to see some friends in the crowd as I made my way out, and even ran into two girls in prom dresses who’d ditched the Gorham High School prom for the show.
Sam solo acoustic tour!? It would be a dream come true. But bring that trumpet player. He can dance. Okay—bring the whole horn section.