Words & Images by: Jesse Borrell
Iron & Wine/Blitzen Trapper :: 11.17.08 :: Terminal 5 :: New York, NY
Some of the best moments of seeing live music occur when a specific artist takes you by surprise by varying their perceived style right before your eyes. Cruising towards NYC's Terminal 5 on an obscure Monday night, I did not know what to expect with the imminent musical combination of indie rockers Blitzen Trapper and the often-ethereal melodies of Sam Beam's Iron & Wine.
The 2007 release The Shepherd's Dog marked a new, innovative chapter in Sam Beam's career. Stepping away from the passive singer-songwriter method, Iron & Wine created a newer, fuller sound with the help of more complex arrangements and a talented studio band that also excelled in the live forum, where the new songs reached true fruition.
Portland, Oregon's Blitzen Trapper started the night off with a healthy mix of quirky folk rock sensibility and potential stadium rock style. A sinister track off their most recent album Furr, "Black River Killer" displayed one aspect of the emerging rock outfit's varied dynamic. With tambourines and maracas highlighting an almost West Coast hip-hop styled keyboard loop, lead singer Eric Earley poetically described a vengeful murder rampage in need of redemption. "Black River Killer" seemed to rely less on the usually repetitive chorus, and more on instrumental flavors as the attempt meandered past the studio edit mark.
"Furr" began acoustically for the beginning couple measures and unfolded with a thicker overall sound that differed from the album version. Singing about one's transformation towards instinct over thought, Earley's use of a hands-free harmonica and catchy lyrical delivery seemed to channel the band's inner Bob Dylan. Unfortunately marred by miscommunication and an abrupt ending, "Gold For Bread" featured lively keyboard play to compliment fast-paced tempo changes and well-sung harmonies.
The primal opening scream of "Love You" turned the tables on unexpected listeners, exhibiting Blitzen Trapper's psychedelic side as soaring guitar play by Marty Marquis complimented the solid drumming of Brian Adrian Koch. "Wild Mountain Nation," the title track from their 2007 album, exhibited the band's more patient, Southern alt-rock style as their set came to a close.
|Eric Earley - Blitzen Trapper :: 11.17 :: NYC|
The peaceful tendencies of Iron & Wine's studio tracks often left me with an image of an almost blank faced, too mellow Sam Beam levitating just inches above the stage. Flash forward to Terminal 5 and the well-bearded singer-songwriter behind the tranquil harmonies of Iron & Wine entered from stage right accompanied by his sister Sarah, who has been a reoccurring guest throughout his career.
The duo started off playing "He Lays In The Reins" off the Calexico/Iron & Wine EP of a similar title. One could probably hear a pin drop as the siblings told their first tale of the night to a rapt audience. As melodies intertwined above the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar, the brother and sister duo portrayed an immense understanding of each other's vocal tendencies during the short, yet entirely refreshing three-minute effort.
Shouts of "I love you!" and "Your beard is sexy!" from the crowd caused a false start during the start of "Each Coming Night," which Beam professionally shrugged off with some comical banter to lighten the mood. "Each Coming Night" resumed and reinforced the pair's tacit ability to capture the simple occurrences of life in a manner that can range from cheerful to heartbreaking on the turn of a dime.
The evening really took off when Sam invited the rest of the band to the stage. After a couple of minutes of free form thematic weaving, the structure manifested into "Woman King." Beam, now articulating on a grunge-toned electric guitar, emerged as the leader of a seven-piece organism aimed at revealing dynamic soundscapes hidden within the core stanzas. Fading out in a similar manner to which it began, drummer Matt Lux and percussionist Ben Massarella rhythmically broke down the arrangement as Sarah Beam and her electric violin brought the song to a smooth conclusion; imitating the mannerisms of a falling feather at ease with its relationship to gravity.
|Sam Beam - Iron & Wine :: 11.17 :: NYC|
"Wolves (Song of The Shepherd's Dog)," an ambitious track off their latest album, broke into a trance-like theme right after the final verse led by the playing of Angelica Sanchez on grand piano. Soaked in Southern gothic-styled rhythms, Iron & Wine took the audience on a highly developed improvisation that tapped into the potential evident within the studio cut. Deep bass drum hits combined with an almost DJ scratching guitar effect looped and weaved around each other, depicting the simple and possibly perilous lives hidden within the average sepia-toned small town.
Just as Beam began the opening chords for "Sodom, South Georgia," a loud fan yelled out "Freebird," to which the troubadour replied with a smile on his face, "You get what you ask for, bitch," and performed part of the famous Lynyrd Skynyrd song beneath the uproarious applause of the entire crowd.
Later in the set as the familiar swampy sounds of "Peace Beneath The City" began, the masses within Terminal 5 seemed to finally groove a little more. The combination of sharp snare hits and conga threw the song deeper within the lyrical contexts of a complex world. Tempos continued and sent the crowd into a thick hypnotic state, almost to the point of self-reflection. Beam showed further prowess on his electric guitar, taking the lead with ominous and eerily effected note patterns that paralleled darker shades of the American Dream.
Throughout the evening, two distinct bands proved proficient at telling stories through unconventional means. Blitzen Trapper is ready to journey the vast music scene with the same distinctiveness fostered at their launch. Iron & Wine, led by the brilliant lyrical mind of Sam Beam, continues to expand upon a magical musical realm where few dare to venture. And to those daring enough to wander out on a random, cold Monday night in New York City, we learned that sometimes it is possible to reinvent even the reinvented.
Blitzen Trapper :: 11.17.08 :: Terminal 5 :: New York, NY
Sleepytime In the Western World, Fire & Fast Bullets, God & Suicide, Saturday Night, Black River Killer, Furr, Country Caravan, Gold For Bread, Jericho, Love You, Unknown, Echo, Summer Town, Wild Mountain Nation
Iron & Wine :: 11.17.08 :: Terminal 5 :: New York, NY
He Lays In The Reigns*, Upward Over The Mountain*, Each Coming Night*, Resurrection Fern*, Godless Brother In Love^, Woman King, Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog), Freebird Tease, Sodom South Georgia, Boy With A Coin, Flightless Bird/American Mouth, Black Candle, Love And Some Verses, The Night Descending, Peace Beneath The City, House By The Sea, The Devil Never Sleeps
E: The Trapeze Swinger*
* Sam and Sara Beam Only
^ Sam and Sara Beam w/ Angelica Sanchez on grand piano
Iron & Wine have completed their tour, but Blitzen Trapper is on the road doing headlining dates right now. You can see them here.
Blitzen Trapper - "Furr"
Continue reading for more pics of Iron & Wine and Blitzen Trapper in NYC...