Aroooooooooooooo! This is a live album, so titled because the guys in the band were all aLIVE when they recorded it. And if you don’t think that’s funny, then you’re right and i’m sorry.
Live from the old-timey music festival Bonnaroo. this sort of official album features 19 songs from the first couple albums and first couple EPs, all taken from the “soft singing guitar guy” I&W era but sure as SUGAR not played that way. Here are some observations:
1. Sam Beam’s speaking voice sounds like extremely drunk Brian Wilson, if you’ve ever heard the hilarious outtakes album “Endless Bummer: The Worst of the Beach Boys” without the hilarious slurring.
2. The crowd friction’ eats this stuff up – nearly everything here gets a pop, and people in the crowd are regularly screaming “I love you!!!!” and, at one point, “Can I have your setlist?” Which, hey, fair enough and it can’t hurt to ask.
3. Sam Beamer’s also not great at crowd banter. Which is normal enough, but “do you guys like to dance or what?” is maybe not the best intro to “Cinder and Smoke,” even if it’s reggae’d up a bit. Also, “it’s your lucky day!” is a weird way to introduce the sedate (but beautiful) “Bird Stealing Bread.” It’s great that he’s playing more live-style music for the live scene, but dude, you’re still Iron and Wine, and you’re great and all, but we’re still probably not going to mosh. Just life, man, just life and how to live it, walking down that old eight lane in the shoes your father gave you, walking down that old eight lane in the shoes your father gave you to your job as CEO of a Fortune 500 company in that great muddy path in the sky, and in the ground, and in the wind, and in the fire, watching those old ashes rise, holding hands with your lover from years ago, whimpering through your inoperable mouth and dreaming of osculation and marshmallows and embers kicking into the air and trying to get into your eyes because they hate you they hate you they hate you just like everyone else so you need to always wear black because black is the colour of grief and goodness grief didn’t you remember how your mother liked saying goodness grief because it was proper and THIS IS NOT A PROPER WORLD so what was she trying to instill? Values?
4. He sounds cute when he giggles, though. And the crowd shouts some pretty stupid things at him (never mean, just dumb, like “I love music!” and “I love beards!”) so give the little big guy a chance.
5. This album features renditions of 4 songs from The Creek Drank the Cradle, 7 from Our Endless Numbered Days, five from the Woman King EP, one from the The Sea and the Rhythm EP, and two non-album tracks (a pretty true cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” and a finger-picked run through soundtrack tearjerker “The Trapeze Swinger” as a closer).
6. Most of the banding up really works! If you’re obsessed with music it’s hard not to be impressed: an oeuvre that’s (to this point) almost entirely acoustic becomes a full band affair with drums and electric guitars and sounds equally good for it. Only a few songs stay faithful, but you won’t mind unless you’re a big ol’ stankpuss. “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven” gets a rip-roaring’ guitar solo! “Cinder and Smoke” gets kinda reggae!” “Upward Over the Mountain” gets a neat-o syncopated drum beat! “Teeth in the Grass” gets a big ol’ angry bass line – making a sad song about either murder or graveyards into a QOTSA-esque rocker. Yes!
7. But really, everyone sounds ecstatic, and it’s really nice. Maybe because I don’t hear the people who’re just waiting for it to be over so that they can go home, enter their rooms, and cry solemnly, but that’s showbiz. Really, a lot of good feels and great songs going on here, and it warms my little heart, even if I’ll probably never revisit it because live album.
9 / 10