I know I've said this before, but I am a very lucky woman. I share a home with an amazing man, whom I not only find devastatingly handsome, but with whom I share much in common. I truly enjoy spending time with Justin, and am thankful every day to have him to make me laugh, cook meals together, and to share adventures with. Yet, despite all of the things we have in common, opportunities for compromise regularly come to light, and thankfully, we've managed to handle them with grace so far.
Tonight, Justin accompanied me to Ravinia, not to see the symphony, as we did last year, but for an Iron & Wine concert. As I mentioned in my assessment of classical music from last year's Ravinia visit, "My favorite part of listening to music is the craft of songwriting, and hearing how different artists combine words to not only sound harmonious together, but to evoke very tangible emotional responses." This is particularly true of Iron & Wine, whose hauntingly poetic music has been a part of my life for many years.
I started listening to Iron & Wine, the stage name of folk-rock artist Sam Beam, during my freshman year of college, when his cover of "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service was included in the soundtrack to Garden State. Not only did the movie make quite an impression on me (I know a lot of people find it trite and overwrought, but it really spoke to me at the age of 19, and I still love it it for that nearly a decade later), but the soundtrack from the film basically became the background music to my life. All thirteen songs on the album made it onto the "25 Most-Played Songs" on my brand-new third-generation iPod.
Nineteen-year-old me thought "Such Great Heights" was possibly the most romantic song ever, so I quickly sought out the rest of Iron & Wine's repertoire, and fell in love. The low-fi production values and soft, quiet melodies made it the perfect music to study to, or fall asleep to during the bouts of insomnia I frequently suffered when I was younger. His lyrics were poetic, and seemed to come from a different time and place. As a result, his songs transported me to a calmer, more relaxing place, and I was hooked.
Over time, Beam's style has evolved, and I can't say I've always been a fan of his evolution. I liked the unpolished, scratchy nature of his early recordings -- it created a greater sense of intimacy for me, as if I were there in his bedroom with him while he recorded songs on a tape deck. Now he's added more session musicians to his work, and the production values are cleaner, and more pop-oriented.
Still, when I saw that Iron & Wine was coming to Ravinia, I wanted to go, not only for the sake of nostalgia, but because there are so seldom modern, interesting acts that appear there. Justin gets a discount on Ravinia tickets through his new job, so I asked him to pick up a pair for us, though it took some gentle persuading. You see, while Justin possesses an appreciation for classical music that I do not, he absolutely can't stand Iron & Wine. He claims the music makes him sleepy, and refuses to listen to it in the car.
Justin is somewhat of an audiophile, so the low-fi style of Iron & Wine's early recordings (precisely the ones I enjoy the most), drives him crazy. While I have invested a lot of time over the years listening carefully to the music on headphones, Justin alleges that he can't make out any of the lyrics. In fact, he does a hilarious impression of early Sam Beam, in which he pretends to pluck a banjo and mumbles incoherently about how indecipherable his words are. Maybe it's something you have to see to understand...
|Sam Beam is the heavily bearded fellow on the right.|
So it was very big of Justin to tag along for tonight's show, and truth be told, I think he enjoyed the evening more than he expected. The opening act was Dr. John, the New Orleans music legend, which appealed to Justin's tastes more than mine. I wasn't a huge fan of Iron & Wine's new sound, which was much more rock and pop-influenced than it once was, to the extent that he has rearranged most of his old songs to suit his new style. I was excited to hear a couple of my favorite songs, "Naked As We Came," and "Jesus, the Mexican Boy," but I was only able to recognize them by listening to the words. True, they may have been musically superior and better enunciated, but the mood of the music was completely different.
My favorite moment of the entire evening was actually the encore, when Beam performed alone, without his band. He played the epic ballad, "The Trapeze Swinger," perhaps my favorite song of his, and perfectly captured the spirit of the original. I get that musicians grow as artists, and that their evolution over time is necessary to their work. I also don't feel that, as a listener, one is obligated to follow a singer through their entire career. There's nothing wrong with liking an artist only during a certain period in their career. For example, I don't think there's any shame in admitting that I think Paul McCartney's best work was with the Beatles, not with Wings, and certainly not during his solo career. I feel the same way about Iron & Wine.