So you hang around for a good gig to come along, and then like buses two arrive more or less together. The Arcade Fire show at Nottingham's Arena last Wednesday has already made lots of news thanks to the fact that an idiot in the crowd threw either a plastic bottle of water or a shoe (there's a debate about what exactly it was) at singer Win Butler, hitting him in the face. Butler threw down his guitar, gestured in the general direction of the thrower, and stormed off stage. The interruption was brief, thankfully, but what was a great gig had definitely been soured.
How good this band are is very very good indeed. The last time I saw them, back in May 2005, was at a much smaller and more intimate venue in Birmingham. Here, in the vast space of the Arena, I have no idea what this gig felt like if you were sitting somewhere up in the gods, but crammed in down near the stage in the standing area the Fire still somehow managed to make it seem intimate and what gigs with bands like this should be like: exciting, sweaty, and worth being there.
There were 10 musicians in the band this time around, swapping instruments, moving around, oozing energy. They'd appeared onstage in a variety of Halloween masks (it was Halloween) and ripped into a pounding version of "Black Mirror".... and, flying shoes and bottles aside, it was a wonderful show. Saving the best for last, they encored with a majestic "Intervention" and finished off everything with the wonderful "Wake Up", during which Butler left the stage and finished the song in the middle of the standing area (followed by a stagehand manfully trying to keep up with him while handling the mike lead); Butler was mobbed by ecstatic fans, of course. It was mayhem but magical.
And also pretty magical, though in a far less frenzied and anthemic way, was the Iron & Wine show at the Rescue Rooms last night. Iron & Wine is singer/songwriter Sam Beam, and his first couple of records were quite simple and really classy affairs, not a hell of a lot of instrumentation beyond the folky guitar and basic accompaniment. The latest record, "The Shepherd's Dog", is a much bigger thing, with more musicians, more varied instruments, and a couple of tracks can even claim to be upbeat and bouncy.
One of the reasons I really like Iron & Wine, though, is that Beam writes really good words. The new record is shot through with a palpable sense of unease, a backdrop of a country at questionable war, but it's achieved subtly and with intelligence. It's a record you really should listen to if your head is anywhere near to enjoying American alt-folk rocky kind of stuff.
Where The Arcade Fire were ten, Iron & Wine last night were eight, a measure of how much bigger Beam's music has become. We had pedal steel guitar, keyboards, fiddle, guitars, a couple of percussionists.... and boy, they could rock along when they wanted to. And they could be quiet, too. They played all (I think, I wasn't keep a proper check) of the latest record, and a few from the back catalogue. Sam Beam is a lot of hair, but he's got a really fine voice, too. Soft but strong, with range. The show was a sellout, and for a change at the Rescue Rooms we weren't plagued by loads of people standing round chatting to their mates; everyone was in thrall to a class act, everyone around me seemed to know all the words to the songs, and there was a really nice atmosphere.
At last, a couple of not just decent gigs: a couple of great gigs. Now all I want is for my bad back to stop killing me.