Saturday, December 10th, 2005
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.
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.
np – Bright Eyes / I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning