Pic from MorrisseyIt was my first time in Terminal 5 (a testament to the precipitous dropping-off of my show attendance of late), so let's get the venue griping out of the way first. There aren't enough places to stand and actually see the stage. The entire 3rd floor is basically a waste, the 2nd floor has very little decent viewing that isn't VIP seating, which basically reduces Terminal 5 to a venue no better than any other stand-on-the-floor-and-try-to-peer-between-heads venue in the city, only the fire marshall lets them sell a lot more tickets. I don't have any complaints about the sound system though. Iron & Wine sounded amazing.
But I was sold before the first note was even picked. Sam Beam had me at "Woo, beards!" which he exclaimed in response to the enthusiastic welcome he received from the sold-out, heavily bearded crowd, a light jab, it seemed to me, at the too-ready-to-shout-ILOVEYOU-or-NAMEOFSONG-or-HOMETOWN-or-ANYTHING-in-even-a-moment-of-silence throngs out to see him sing that night. Try to follow that last sentence. Just try. But really, it was like that. That shit drives me nuts.
And then he started playing, first joined on stage by only a female accompanying voice. "He Lays In The Reins." I had steeled myself against the possibility that he wouldn't play a single song from my favorite of his records (okay, not exclusively his), and he opened with it. The highlight of these affairs for the majority of the audience, it seems, are these stripped down numbers. Sam can play the hell out of a guitar, and he's surrounded himself with a group of similarly able musicians, but he can't escape the shadow of his own whispery voice, which is all anyone wants to hear. The crowd grew noticeably restless during the longer full-band breakdowns.
I, for one, like seeing artists retool songs live on stage, but experience dictates that most fans disagree. I would think that most fans of the act would pretty much know what they're getting into at this point, but those who would rather an artist sound just like the record in concert were, fortunately for me and unfortunately for them, out of luck for most of Iron & Wine's set last night.
Edit: I forgot to mention this before posting, but I genuinely enjoyed Blitzen Trapper too. I was a hater when I saw them at The Mercury Lounge months ago, so that was a very pleasant surprise.