X-J-9-R-T-5…I delicately typed the code into the keyboard followed by one deliberate depression of the “ENTER” key, and six center stage orchestra tickets were all but mine for the taking. This non-hedge fund/finance related web browsing was clearly inappropriate for work hours, but I had to make sure that I got good seats. So, I purchased the tickets for the Iron & Wine show at 10:02 am – two minutes after they went on sale to the general public – on Ticketmaster.com some time in mid-July. The show was not to be until late September, but foresight in the concert game can certainly pay off. Banking on the fact that friends of mine would be willing to go to the show, I was happy to get the extra tickets to ensure that I could go and sit with a group of close friends.
The months passed by, and I continued to enjoy my leaked version of the Shepard’s Dog – Sam Beam’s latest opus – a seemingly jam band/latino influenced work more reminiscent of his collaborative EP with Calexico rather than his days with 4-Track recorder, a solo acoustic guitar, and his raspy yet soothing voice. I realized however, that the album was not to be officially released until the week of the concert. I thought then that this departure in style might take some easing into by the hands that were so familiar with and adoring of Sam’s earlier work.
September 27th came quickly as the first weeks of school slipped away, and I set off to the Orpheum in Boston with three close friends to meet two other Montana buddies at the concert. Traffic was a breeze, but the directions were not, and Charlie Potter (the driver) and I had to locate the venue by our none-too-keen grasp of Boston’s chaotic downtown area. We got to the concert 45 minutes late, assured by the promise of an awful opening band, but to our surprise, Sam Beam was not on stage, and there was no music coming from the main hall. Instead, the lobby was packed with 20 somethings – many of them bearded – and the concertgoers were conversing (or shouting at each other?) whilst getting drunk. Bad news.
Sam Beam came on stage with his sister and the rest of his 8-piece band ready to entertain the old reserved seating vaudeville theatre.
“The pedal steel is too loud,” I thought, “his vocals too quiet.”
Sound levels were atrociously amiss for the first several songs, and Sam Beam’s lyrics were nothing but a quiet hush as the loudness of his guitar simply pointed to the mediocrity of his playing. “He’s gotten better,” Andy leaned over and whispered to me, and I noticed it was true. Sam Beam’s skills had improved considerably on guitar, as he incorporated a more “bluesy” sound and elaborated on his old basic chord structures.
But the crowd was insatiable and seemed lost before the concert had even started. As the rowdy, stereotypically “Boston”, crowd shouted out songs to play in between every song, Sam seemed to lose the joy in his face and looked like he was just going through the motions on another performance night.
He had worked through most of his new album to gentle applause, and actual shouts of “Freebird” (I wanted to scream!), and it was then that I realized that this audience just did not know Sam’s new stuff. I had taken the album’s leak release date for granted, and should have been aware that the Shepard’s Dog had only been released two days earlier and less tech. savvy, more morally conscious, and more casual fans would have never heard these songs before.
Whether it speaks to Sam Beam’s changing fan base in Boston – I saw him perform two years earlier with Calexico at the Avalon to an ecstatic crowd – the blood alcohol levels of the crowd, or the untimely release of the album, it is hard to say, but ultimately, the concert was overwhelmingly forgettable.
“No worries,” Andy leaned over and said as we left the front doors, “this is just a warm up for J.Ritt next week.” My once, completely Sam Beam crazy friend, the man that turned me on to Iron & Wine, had clearly lost his taste for Sam’s newer sounds. What had happened in process, I wonder to make him so ambivalent? It was the same with my other close friend, Joe, who had lost his love for the Decemberists – unremarkably close to their release of the Crane Wife – despite strong ties to lead singer Colin Meloy (Helena, MT native), and Steffen with Sufjan Stevens as his album Illinois came into the mainstream. I can only worry, that Josh Ritter is the next up and coming “folk” artist to lose his charm and appeal as he enters the limelight.