Indie Concert Reviews
Artists: Iron & Wine, Bobby Long
Venue: The Tivoli Theatre, Chattanooga TN
Date: April 28, 2012
To paraphrase my brother at the Iron & Wine concert at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, TN last night: “It’s ballsy to start your show with a 9 minute b-side.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga is an absolutely beautiful venue. There is a reason that the Chattanooga Opera and Symphony call it home. The stage is bordered by ivory inlaid borders, red cushioned box seats, and there is a large golden, recessed dome in the ceiling. There are sculpted, inlaid mosaics surrounding this dome and an intricately decorated 2nd floor balcony which gives an unobstructed view of the stage and is situated above the orchestra seats. Needless to say, this particular venue draws a very specific audience demographic and artist. But as of late, it has begun to branch out and bring more than the usual MOR pop/rock and annual symphony and opera programs to Chattanooga. And on April 28, 2012, Iron and Wine came to town.
I sat in the far left front row loge on the balcony and waited for the show to start. I wasn’t familiar with the opener. In fact, I didn’t even know there was going to be an opener until I got there and saw his cd on the merch table beside all the Iron & Wine shirts and albums. Bobby Long is a singer/songwriter in the vein of John Mayer or Johnny Lang. That is, he was very personable and funny but fairly forgettable when it came to his music.
He stood on the stage alone, with his acoustic guitar and sang in a nondescript voice for close to thirty minutes. He did recount a very funny story of a drunk man on the flight he took that morning from New York to Chattanooga but other than that, it was decent but not great. I’m actually a bit surprised that he was opening for Iron & Wine. I’m assuming he was asked because the first few Iron & Wine albums were mostly acoustic affairs and the band was kind enough to want to help him reach more potential fans. Before he took the stage, I looked him up on my phone to see exactly what kind of music he played and I saw that he had recently been opening for Steve Winwood. Yes, that Steve Winwood. So he plays and then leaves the stage and I’m waiting for Sam Beam and Company.
After a time, the lights dim and a lone Same Beam walks out on stage. With a cursory acknowledgement, he begins to play, acoustic guitar in hand. Now this is where the paraphrasing of my brother comes into play. He opens the show with “The Trapeze Swinger”, a nine minute song from his odd-and-ends compilation Around The Well. So in this case, I’d have to agree that it was a ballsy move to open with this particular song. But it was a too brief nine minutes, as this song was a beautiful way to start the evening.
After this song, his backing band took the stage and it felt like they, as well as those of us in the audience, were ready. Sam and the band pulled from practically every album to fill in the ranks of the nights setlist. He followed up “The Trapeze Swinger” with a track from the new album, “Tree By The River”, one of my personal favorites from Kiss Each Other Clean. It seems as though he was having a good time on stage as he turned many of his earlier acoustic songs into straight-up rockers. Though one of the highlights of the evening came from “Rabbit Will Run”, another track from his new album. He barreled through it with the band keeping pace, racing toward the finish. This level of energy was on display throughout the night and never slipped or felt diminished.
At one point, Beam went into a story about his recently playing the posthumous 80th birthday party for Johnny Cash. He and other artists like Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson played covers of Cash songs, with Beam playing “Long Black Veil”. He said that he was more familiar with The Band’s version and so they played that song with a quick mention of Levon Helm’s recent passing. It was a very nice touch and a great version of the song. They ran through a few more new songs like “Glad Man Singing” and “Big Burned Hand” off the new album and these songs were given an emotional punch that surpassed the album versions.
They played for about an hour and a half, graciously thanked the audience, and exited the stage amid thunderous applause, which did not lessen until Beam came back out on stage a minute or so later. He asked us what song we wanted to hear and of course that opened the floodgates. The hall erupted in a cacophonous swirl, with everyone yelling out a different song. He allowed the din to subside a bit and then began to play “Naked As We Came” from Our Endless Numbered Days. It was a simple and beautiful way to end the night.
And even though I was unable to get down to the stage in time to ask for a setlist, I felt satisfied and appreciative that the evening has been all that I’d hoped it would be. It felt warm and emotionally participatory in a way that I would not have expected, at least to the degree that it was.
The air was still as we walked back to the car. Somewhere, someone was singing.
written by Joshua Pickard