Sunday, April 20, 2008
Tallahassee Roadtrip: Califone and Iron and Wine
Getting to The Moon in Tallahassee on the 10th wasn't as easy as the 86 miles between us, since I had to sit through a stomach-churning committee meeting an hour too long. My wonderfully patient friend Dixie and I unfortunately arrived late, too late to go out to dinner before the show (The Moon's gumbo, though, ain't too shabby), and just in time to catch Califone's last two songs--"Orchids" and "The Eye You Lost in The Crusades." It wasn't even 9:30. The crowd (lots of FSU kids admitted free with ID), clearly showed up only because " free with ID," and maybe because they'd sorta kinda heard that Iron & Wine song on an M&M's commercial or something and somebody in the sorority said like one of their indie rock nerd friend's said it like might be awesome, and so they talked loud and had already drunk too much. Only 9:30 and some guy passes flat out in front of the stage during "Eye," a beautiful and arresting song, that, yes, could in fact cause one to swoon, so perhaps I'm being harsh. To be fair, plenty in the audience knew what they were listening to and were also irritated by the fraterlopers.
Tim Rutili, whose writing I've long admired, was kind enough to come out and wait with me for Dixie, who was out talking to guitarist and filmmaker Jim Becker, dutifully handling merch duties after the set. Tim rescued us and let us back stage where I caught up with him and Joe Adamik and Ben Massarella. Dixie had a good time hearing Joe reminisce about his single Valdosta experience way back when he was married to a woman who spoke only French. The owner of Groucho's (a classic dive and current biker bar called Mikki's) almost kicked Joe's band out because they refused to cover Skynard or Molly Hatchet or the Georgia Satellites, demonstrating that our famous deep South hospitality doesn't apparently apply when it comes to issues of musical diversity.
Iron & Wine began with their earlier quieter works, just Sam Beam with his acoustic and his sister Sarah with violin, pleasing those in the crowd who like Sam Beam's whispering ballads, his quiet stories. Then the entire band joined him, deftly weaving complex rhythms and melodies without overwhelming Sam Beam's natural vocal gifts. In fact, the bigger sound brings out the richness and purity of his voice, and live he proved that Shepard's Dog wasn't all Brian Deck's brilliant production. Every song on the setlist sparkled, especially my favorite from the new album, "Pagan Angel in a Borrowed Car," its southern love-gothic imagery clear and dark ("Love was our father's flag and sewn like a shank/In a cake on our leather boots/A beautiful feather floating down/To where the birds had shit our empty chapel pews) against surprising uplifting rhythms. The backing band was tight all evening, but never mechanical.
Watching from backstage, I focused on Ben Massarella, who plays in both bands, while he worked his percussive wizardry. Usually, from the front, he's hard to see, especially in larger venues. He's constantly picking something up and putting it down, his head bobbing behind the bank of "stuff" he plays like a bear hesitant to come out of the cave after a winter of hibernation, lots of up and down, lots of beautiful noise, that full head of hair, but mysterious. From the back, I watched him pick up instrument after instrument, many found objects, and make the perfect, perfectly timed, bang, shirrrr, ting, beat, or rattle. At times he held so many odd sound-fetishes live in his hands like spirit animals, it looked like he was performing shamanic ritual exorcism (especially during the thundering extended finale of "Horoscope Amputation Honey" in Jacksonville, more on that later). He also smiles when he plays; he loves the music, the sound he helps sculpture. I mentioned my amazement to Tim after the show. He just nodded and smiled, said, "He plays the air."
Photos by Dixie.