Musical Musings: The disparate sounds of !!! and Iron & Wine

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The last time I saw the Brooklyn dance-punks (whose name is usually pronounced "chk chk chk") was four years ago in a tent closing down a Barcelona music festival at 4 in the morning. That seemed like an ideal venue for their rhythmic rock jams, a substitute club music for people like me who can't handle raver hits. Watching them under fluorescent lights while daylight remained outside was, as you can imagine, a step down.

Their performance was on-point, despite some technical difficulties that led to the bass dropping out during the first song. If it was going to cut out at all, better during that song, a lackluster number that seemed to be easing us into things, than later when the grooves locked in and the music took off. The rest of the crowd must not have been taking to the environment either because this band that usually inspires shameless contortions was faced with mostly crossed arms and nodding heads. No squealing groupies, just squealing synths.

Who could blame the crowd, or the band for that matter? The whole promote-indie-radio thing is a fine cause, and this event was a cool idea, but with any luck !!! will play after dark next time they're in town.

Amusingly, the guy I saw doing the most dancing in the audience last weekend was at the Iron & Wine show at Newport Music Hall. This dude was swaying and conducting and freaking out all night long, as if he had hitched a ride up here from Bonnaroo on the tour bus.

Unfortunately, enthusiastic hippie dude was about as entertaining as Iron & Wine: Jam Band Edition. You would think adding a full band fleshed out with violin, organ and the weird percussion dude from Califone would enliven the set, but the music was sleepier and less captivating than ever Sunday night. Sam Beam and his band were on stage for more than an hour, yet when they walked off after a perilously long version of "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)" everyone in my party felt thoroughly unsatisfied.

Sad as I might be to miss out on classics like "Naked As We Came" and "Upward Over the Mountain," I understand why Beam wants to focus on his new Shepherd's Dog material. But he also overlooked the two best songs from that record, "Lovesong of the Buzzard" and "Boy With a Coin," and indulged the lesser tracks with extended jams that robbed the songwriting of any potency. The few early songs that made the cut, such as "Bird Stealing Bread," got a nasty makeover in this

Only when Beam returned for a measly one-song encore did I find any satisfaction. Trading his electric guitars for an acoustic at last, Beam and his female backing vocalist unveiled a spine-tingling rendition of "The Trapeze Swinger," bare and beautiful in all the ways the main set had lacked. Had the whole show been like that, I would have walked out of there a changed man.

It goes to show that no matter how good a song is, presentation plays a big part in the way we enjoy music. Criticizing Beam like this, I feel like the folk legalists who derided Bob Dylan for going electric. But what was right for Dylan is so, so wrong for Beam. Dylan's music was full of spunky rock spirit from the start. Iron & Wine was made to be quiet, intimate, vulnerable. In this case, less is more.