Iron and Wine at Missoula’s Wilma

Sam Beam, Iron and Wine auteur and werewolf Jesus

Sam Beam, Iron and Wine auteur and werewolf Jesus

Two things struck me about Iron and Wine’s concert at the historic and increasingly moldy Wilma Theater last night. The first was that Missoula absolutely loves Iron and Wine. In retrospect that makes a lot of sense, but I was shocked to find the Wilma sold out and, when we arrived near the end of the opener, devoid of empty seats to the very back row of the balcony. From my position in that remove, I was also struck by how many microphones and instruments were onstage.

I had not really listened to Iron and Wine since 2006, when the alt-country/Americana craze reached its frenzied peak. The name of the band is perfect in a way that verges on comical if you remember that scene. Although he was affable and funny last night, Sam Beam—the auteur who essentially is Iron and Wine—represented a kind of bearded seriousness that I now remember as my least favorite feature of the genre. As we approached the Wilma, I reflected that the Iron and Wine show posed a significant danger of putting me to sleep.

Then Marvin Gaye came on. Actually it was Iron and Wine, but between the horn section, the string section and the backup singers—backup singers!—the confusion was understandable. The songs sounded nothing like the Iron and Wine I remembered. During the middle third of the show, Beam settled in with a spotlight and a guitar and sang several of his extraordinarily pretty/depressing folk songs, but the first half hour was essentially soul music.

Clearly, Iron and Wine had changed dramatically since 2006. It did not seem to be a sudden departure, either, because the crowd was going insane. They were as plaid-clad and 35 as I expected them to be, but they were wiling out to a completely unexpected kind of music.

Here is where any Iron and Wine fan who is still reading this—presumably because he can’t wait to read the show report of a person who doesn’t particularly like the band and hasn’t listened to it in years—will get mad: I like the soul jam version of Iron and Wine much better than the unheated cabin version.

It makes much better use of Beam’s considerable falsetto, in a context that makes it sound fun rather than mournful. Beam either has a very good bassist or a knack for writing engaging rhythm lines. And it makes for a much more energetic live performance, what with the horn section dancing like the Four Tops (white version with hip injuries) and everyone onstage clearly having a great time.

Again, the enthusiasm of the audience suggested that this change in Iron and Wine’s style happened gradually. Perhaps you need to live in Missoula for a while to appreciate how absurdly appropriate it is for Iron and Wine to sell out the Wilma and the very identifiable demographic in attendance last night. That demographic makes sense in the context of Beam’s old material, though. Watching them go crazy for completely different music was a jarring experience and a pleasant surprise.

Friday links! Rule of the commentariat edition

It’s been a bonanza week for news commentators, with earthquakes, tell-all books, people saying “negro” two years ago—everything that makes a vibrant political discourse thrive. The big news, though, was that a certain someone jumped from national electoral politics to the big show: cable news commentating. When Bill O’Reilly welcomed Sarah Palin to Fox News, he told her that she had acquired a powerful tool, a bigger megaphone that she could at last use to shout back at her critics. The implication was that being a Fox commentator was a position of greater power than being governor of Alaska. And was he wrong? Sarah Palin is more popular now than she was when she had the full might of the Republican Party behind her. Rush Limbaugh has outlasted the Contract With America, three Presidents and presumably dozens of minor coronaries. And Glenn Beck can’t think. Powerful men all, and it’s hard to argue that they wield less influence over the American people than do Pelosi, Boehner and Reid. Perhaps that is as it should be. I, for one, welcome our new and increasingly bloated masters, and urge them to form a new government of Real Americans and questionable analogies to Hitler just as soon as they can. Won’t you join me in considering the beautiful world they’re creating? No? Okay, back to cat videos, then. I’ll see the rest of you after the jump.

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I got bored when I didn’t have a band: The Hold Steady in Bozeman, MT

The Hold Steady-CBGB

See how you're looking at the camera instead of at the band? That's why you don't have a boyfriend.

Liking The Hold Steady is not going to get you laid. All the indie vampires consider them passé or, worse, a novelty band, and girls in Kings of Leon hoodies have not heard of them. You can put on “The Swish” at a party, but someone will hit skip when it becomes evident that it doesn’t have a chorus, at which point two dudes in the corner will go “Aww!” They will be the oldest guys at the party. The Hold Steady is late-twenties music, about weird keggers and not going to certain clubs anymore and the uncertainty that starts to creep into a life spent listening to bands like The Hold Steady. It is for people who have already been through a Xanax thing. It is for guys who know where to get High Life in cans and will bring the High Life in cans to your party and drink it on the porch while wearing metal shirts, despite the fact that they are totally like 30. In other words, The Hold Steady is for people who have not yet given up on life. They’re for people who like rock, not because it’s cool—since it really isn’t anymore, given how old it is and how old we are—but because it rocks. Last night they brought their yelling, guitar soloing, whoa-ing show to The Filling Station in Bozeman, Montana, and 50 college kids came out to see them, plus 300 people who were suspiciously old to be drinking on a Tuesday night.

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The historical analog: Glenn Beck and Father Coughlin

They're both on the radio, they both love Jesus, and they're both deeply committed to cardiovascular exercise

They're both on the radio, they both love Jesus, and they're both deeply committed to cardiovascular exercise

Part of the difficulty in understanding the cultural phenomenon that is Glenn Beck—and he’s been on the cover of Time magazine, just like Arsenio Hall, so it’s official now—is pinning down exactly what he is. Despite his occasional declarations to the contrary, it seems safe to say that Beck is some kind of a Political Person. Rarely does he use his shows to give us an awesome recipe for brownies or tell us how to fix our cars; pretty much everything Glenn Beck talks about relates to the federal government of the United States. Yet where he might fit, in terms of a coherent ideology that relates to our historical moment, is infuriatingly difficult to assess. “I’m so tired of everybody having a political agenda,” he has said. “Do you know what my political agenda is? America! America!” That’s super and all, but you can’t really cite “America” as your approach to American politics, for the same reason you can’t give directions to the mall by shouting “this Subaru! this Subaru!” over and over. Beck appears to be a conservative, insofar as he is dedicated in his opposition to President Obama, but he also spends a lot of time criticizing the Republican Party. He’s deeply alarmed about both fascism and socialism, as embodied in the continued existence of the federal government; that and the general protect-your-freedom tenor of his beloved Tea Party movement suggest that he might be some kind of libertarian. But he’s also a converted Mormon, a virulent opponent of gay marriage, and a crusader against drug legalization. In general, Beck is against so much and for so little that he functions as a sort of political ghost: vaporous, impossible to pin down, yet seemingly everywhere and constantly moaning.

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And we do these things in unison: Los Campesinos! at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC

The camera phone was actually the only thing not moving,

The camera phone was actually the only thing not moving.

The Cure and I are crappy old people, so we arrived at the 9:30 Club in a cab, which dropped us at the curb next to a cluster of sad, hopeful-looking girls in pre-owned dresses. They watched the entry line in wan silence, crossing and re-crossing their arms and generally looking like recently fired librarians. A man with a clipboard came out to talk to them, apologized, and went back inside. A few minutes later they marched in, with an air of profound determination.

“Were those Los Campesinos! groupies?” I said.

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