US - New Mexico - Full Moon 89 - 01/07/04
The Shins + Iron
& Wine + The Smallgoods
Corner Hotel, Richmond,
Melbourne, AUS 10.12.03
c/o SubPop Records
I saw your band The Shins play the other night and I thought I'd write and let you know how much
I enjoyed it. You guys rule.
In fact, the whole evening was pretty triumphant. I'd never heard Iron & Wine before,
but Sam Beam and his friend Patrick convinced me that The Creek Drank The Cradle is an essential
buy, so we picked up a copy at the merchandising stall. The subdued blend of two acoustic guitars,
the occasional banjo, and Beam's husky voice really got the crowd swooning with pleasure. Real
open-fire music, the atmosphere crackling and the cool breeze stirring the emotions. From the first
time I heard "Upward Over The Mountain" it won my heart, and I've been strumming it ever since,
despite its similarity to overplayed Pumpkins oldie "Disarm". And the stark cover of The Flaming
Lips' "Waitin' For Superman" was a masterstroke.
Your other support, Melbourne band The Smallgoods sat awkwardly next to Iron & Wine,
their sunny harmonized pop sounding too smooth and trite against Beam's rustic tapestry. However,
credit to the local band for playing two sets, one before Iron & Wine's set and another after. The
former was best I think, with some gorgeous pedal steel setting off the woozy strumming nicely.
But the set after Iron & Wine just sounded crude and brash. I can see why they were chosen in an
attempt to compliment The Shins' bright pop sound, but at least you guys can write songs.
And what songs. Pretty much every one was a winner, and you must have played about 35 of the
suckers. Almost all of wonderful new album Chutes
Too Narrow, and a good proportion of Oh, Inverted World too. But before I tell you which
bits of the set really got my soul singing, I have a confession to make.
You look like a physics teacher James. Sorry, but you do. I forgave the fact that you stood to
the side of the stage, as your keyboardist Marty Crandall is a fantastic showman, and really kept
the pace of the set rapid with his quick wit. You're an intense man aren't you James - a real
thinker. I'd just never appreciated it until I saw you perform the songs in person.
The records demonstrate an absolutely genius way with a guitar tune, but the passion you pour
into those words and melodies is truly something to behold. And what a voice! Expressive without
being overwrought; sensitively delivered without being syrupy. The range of your craft is astounding,
and despite your lack of confidence on stage, you knocked the crowd sideways.
OK - onto my highlights. Although some of my favourite songs on the albums are the quieter
numbers with clear, lilting melodies - like "Pink Bullets", "New Slang" and "Young Pilgrims" - it
was the rockier tracks that really won me over live. The riff from "Turn A Square" had me grinning
like a twat, and that's a great thing. Groovy as fuck. And "Pressed In A Book" never really impressed
me on your debut, but live it was injected with a compelling urgency that I found truly moving.
Songs, songs, songs - so many good songs. Keep writing 'em James and I'll keep listening. And
I've been lucky to catch you in Australia, so I hope I can see you tour the next album when I return
Yours in admiration, and sustained excitement about the power of the pop song,
Copyright © 2004 Tim Clarke
Photo Copyright © 2004 Debra Zeller