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Saturday, December 10th, 2005

Red Dust

I had been looking forward to last night’s Iron & Wine and Calexico show with equal parts anticipation and dread – the former because the musical talents involved almost guaranteed an amazing show, and the latter because that promise was pretty much overshadowed by the venue they were scheduled to play, the dreaded Docks. Any and all conversations with anyone in town about the show seemed to skip right over the artists and go straight into, “oh god I hate the Docks”. A lot of people were willing to boycott the show for that reason alone, and I was one of those at first. However promises that the hall would be halved in size to create a more intimate setting and my unwillingness to miss the show eventually persuaded me to buy a ticket. I was hopeful and/or confident that the music and performance would far outshine any problems with the venue itself. I like it when I’m right.

I was a little surprised to hear folks in the audience asking, “so who’s opening?”, since I was there as much to see Calexico as Iron & Wine, maybe more. I appreciate that this was I&W’s first time back in Toronto since the whole Garden State thing opened up his fanbase enormously, but I would have thought that even his fans would have an understanding of the context of the In The Reins tour. Oh well. Calexico, for my money, are one of the best live bands out there right now and they certainly backed that reputation up last night. Their set contained a fair bit of unknown material, presumably from next year’s Garden Ruin, but even if you’re not familiar with the songs there’s plenty to enjoy in the musicianship and performance. They were joined in the later part of their set by Salvador Duran, who contributed the operatic vocals in the title track of In The Reins, and after Calexcio finished he remained to do a short set of Flamenco (actually, Joey Burns informed the crowd that his music technically wasn’t Flamenco, but originated from another part of Mexico… I forget what he called it, though). It wouldn’t be untoward to say that Duran’s presence was maybe the highlight of the show – the man brought an intensity and dignity in his music that was probably unfamiliar to the indie-rocking audience. I didn’t understand a word of it, but it was riveting nonetheless.

After Duran finished, there was a short break before Sam Beam and his cohorts shuffled out onstage. It’s funny that a guy so associated with acoustic folk music would actually be sporting such a large band – at one point, he had three drummers and percussionists behind him and he himself was playing electric guitar. Blasphemy! The extra instrumentation was mainly concentrated in the rhythm section – melodically, it was still very much just his wonderfully soft voice and guitar (as well as sister Sarah’s harmonies and violin). The weightier sound helped bring the material from the Woman King EP to life, and when it came time to do the sparser, Endless Numbered Days material, they dropped back leaving just Sam and Sarah to beguile the audience. It was also marvelous to hear “The Trapeze Swinger” live, far and away my favourite Iron & Wine song ever. As his set wound down, Beam called out the members of Calexico (who had actually been playing with him through his set) to come out for the final, In The Reins portion of the show.

I liked In The Reins, but was a little disappointed that the recordings didn’t seem as transcendent as I thought the collaboration could have been. Happily, the live show more than compensated. The huge band arrangements, numbering up to eleven players at points, really made the songs sound massive and stately, and again, Duran’s vocals during “He Lays In The Reins” got the audience roaring with approval. For some reason, the set seemed to run a little bit shorter than others on the tour meaning that numbers like “History Of Lovers” and their cover of “Wild Horses” were omitted, but those are minor complaints in light of how amazing the whole of the show was. And as the icing on the cake, it was Joey Burns’ birthday, an occasion celebrated in the encore with a bottle of champagne.

So as hoped, the show was beautiful and amazing, and the venue? Seriously? Not that bad at all. The sound was fantastic, as were the lighting and projections, and the sightlines from where I was were just fine. Mind you, I was in the second row… the stage was low enough that I could imagine seeing would be a problem if you were at the back, but what can you do. And my pictures turned out quite well. The only real problem with the Docks, which I got to experience fully, was the logistics of getting there and back. The vehicularly enabled could pay $15 parking and walking types were stuck cabbing it, at least $20 there and back from anywhere in downtown. But even that wasn’t such a big deal if you could even GET a cab – after the show, I had walked about 2 km and 20 minutes to the Distillery District before I could find a vacant cab. Not such a big deal if it were Summer, but brutally cold and windy in December. Not fun. If I ever end up going back there for anything, you’re damn skippy that I’m calling a cab in ahead of time.

The Associated Press queries Jeff Tweedy about the writing process and file-sharing.

Neil Gaiman is taking a hint from Disney’s focus groups and will henceforth be blogging as Skippy, “a fictional six-year-old tomboy and computer genius, with a small number of endearing catchphrases”. Oh, bitchcakes.

eye eulogizes Arrested Development. So, is it OFFICIALLY cancelled, or is everyone just reading the 40-foot tall writing on the wall? Not even Save Our Bluths seems to be maintaining the death watch anymore.

BEST NEWS EVER. Via Prefix.

np – Bright Eyes / I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

By : Frank Yang at 1:11 pm
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Garnet says:

    Having missed the Garden State phenomenon — I already knew about most of those bands, so the CD was no big whoop — I too was flabbergasted by the new arrivals in Sam Beam’s fan club last night. Still, not a bad show; I just can’t imagine how cool it would’ve been in, say, the Opera House.

  2. Neil says:

    Great review – I’m still barely half finished mine. My biggest complaint about the whole show musically was that the Iron & Wine drummer (not the percussionist) was atrocious. I hate to be rude, but he had the subtlety and skill of an elephant fart. During Jezebel I kept having visions of Animal bellowing "EAT DRUMS!", and James McNally remarked, "hey, it’s John Bonham!"

    That said, the show was worth braving the bitter cold afterwards. My knees were pretty creaky after standing in one spot for over 3 hours, too.

  3. uwmryan says:

    I was looking forward to the show in Chicago tomorrow, and this made me even more excited. Great phots. Did they cover "Always On My Mind?"

  4. C. Greene says:

    This review makes me look forward to next Friday’s show in Atlanta. Thanks for a great review and the pictures look great.

  5. brian. says:

    I have to say I enjoyed the show on the whole. I was a little underwhelmed with Iron and Wine, as they were so incredibly amazing last time at the (much more appropriate) Horseshoe. That show was so quiet and yet had huge energy.

    Calexico were absolutely fantastic and were the main reason I endured the venue, not having seen them before. The first hit of those horns just gave me goosebumps and I was glued to it from then on. Great, great band live. And you’re right, Salvador Duran was so good.

    It’s great that Sam Beam is letting the songs grow and trying things out on them, but it’s pretty clear that he’s been spending lots of time with Calexico. Sometimes the Calexico treatment worked, like on Jezebel or Southern Anthem, and other times I thought it was too much. I wasn’t too into it when they got all jammy.
    Also, sorry, but too many people on stage comin’ and goin’, like this:
    group song, everybody come out; everybody but Sam and Sarah leave, quiet song; everybody come back, including 5 different people to play shakers on a souped-up former quiet song; more people out including Dallas Good who we can’t hear; everybody leave again; etc. etc.
    I agree with the previous comment about the I+W drummer, he was pretty hamfisted, especially compared to John Convertino, who was just awesome to watch. I also found it hard to get fully immersed in the quiet vibe when all around was abuzz with the sounds of empties clanging and hosers laughing at the back, and the sights of employees constantly crossing in front of the stage with a parade of metal dollys.
    In fact, a lot of my bitchiness about Iron and Wine was the venue, which I hadn’t ever been to before and NEVER will again. You mentioned the parking, and ya, it sucked. I don’t understand why we drove down street after deserted street with NO PARKING signs, in the middle of nowhere with no traffic, only to have to pay $15 at an isolated lot. I can only imaging how sucky it would be to take transit there.
    And good luck trying to go take a pee once the show started, there was no access route to the washroom, just a wall of people. Also the bartenders were super grouchy…the one woman who got me a beer put her hand on some change (I guess it wasn’t enough) that the previous person had left and she flung it off the metal bartop so it went flying and smashed against the wall. She was scary.
    Plus the tall guy right beside us at the front (I’m sure it was him) kept farting thoughout the entire show.
    Sorry for the rant. I actually did enjoy it, overall.

  6. lesley says:

    I gulped but didn’t blink when I saw the venue & bought my tickets anyway. As initially imagined, though, the docks really ruined the show for me. Four 45 minute sets standing on a concrete floor leaning in a progressively less natural position as more and more tall men squeezed in front of me (I’m 5’4), obliterating all but a partial over-the-shoulder view meant I&W would have really had to pump up the energy to keep me plugged in. All the between-set conversation around me focussed on how much different things would be just about anywhere else – danforth music hall, trinity-st. paul’s, the opera house. Who on earth recommended that venue??

    Having said that, I was there mostly to see Iron & Wine but enjoyed Calexico to the max. I think Woman King might be my album of 2005, yet the performance even of the tracks from that really felt too subdued for me. Again this was a venue issue – make me stand in a the centre of a crowded dance floor & you better make me wanna boogie. The sound was great admittedly, but I really couldn’t lose myself in the second half of the show. Too bad.

    My apologies to the two guys beside me – I bitched their ear off through probably the best part of the I&W set – jeeze I was pissed off, but I mean really, I had an easier time keeping their attention than the stage did. And what does that say?

  7. Frank says:

    yeah, that floor was brutal, but really not specific to the Docks – the Kool Haus and Opera House are both back killers. I’ve learned some good tricks to mitigating the pain while standing for extended periods of time (knees slightly bent, torso leaned slightly forward), though, so it didn’t get to me THAT badly.

    What did get me was the guy standing beside me who thought it’d be a good idea to slow dance with his girlfriend through the whole I&W set, never mind the fact that there was barely room to stand still. And THEN he complains to me that I’m bumping his girlfriend. No jackass, your girlfriend is bumping me.

    Asshat.