The summer of 2017, a virtual dream came true: Iron & Wine was not only coming to Louisville, Kentucky, Iron & Wine was doing the show for free. As part of Waterfront Wednesday, hosted by our local radio station WFPK, Sam Beam and band would perform on the Big Four Lawn on the Louisville waterfront. Of course, I went. But why did I not think there was a gig poster to commemorate it? And why did it take me three years to realize it?
The show was great, or at least what I heard of it. Being a free show, everyone and their aunt went. And because it was free, it had more of a “meet your friends and drink beer” vibe. A “We’re here to visit” vibe. Which meant, an “Everybody is talking during the performance” vibe. Sigh!
Still, it was a great show. Beam, under his aegis and nom de plume Iron & Wine, was touring on his Beast Epic album. I’d loved his music for a long time, and it was only the second time I’d seen him; the first was in little Eugene, Oregon, where he performed solo at the Macdonald Theater.
Now, I’d known about MadPixel, our local poster-maker, and screen printer, for a long time. I knew they’d made a poster for the first show I’d seen in Louisville, the Monsters of Folk, who performed on Halloween at the beautiful Palace Theatre downtown. That band, you may recall, consisted of local boy Jim James, frontman of My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, and M. Ward. It was an epic show, not least owing to the audience, a substantial number of which came in full costume. The band played a long set then disappeared for a long time. When they came back, they themselves were in costume—dressed as KISS. The curtain came up, and there they were, roaring through “Detroit Rock City.”
Clearly, the poster has a “Halloween” feel entirely consistent with the show where, during the encore, the band invited audience members in costumes to come onstage. I imagine, looking at the image, a kind of seance. The ghostly figure resembles, for me, Conor Oberst, the other figure vaguely resembling Jim James, though that could well be my imagination. The poster—and this is a good moment as any to talk about dimensions—is 18″ by 24″, three-color, hand-pulled (meaning, simply, that this is not a “machine” reproduction but that someone laid the ink by hand) and printed with non-toxic water-based ink. There are, according to MadPixel, less than five left. The price: $75.
Consider another MadPixel poster, which looks immediately and entirely different from either of the ones above. This one is for local heroes My Morning Jacket, made not for a local show but for a gig in Portland, Maine.
This poster brilliantly refers to carnival sideshow posters or something you’d expect to see on a boardwalk a hundred years past. The show celebrated was a benefit from 2010, again 18″ by 24″ and signed in a numbered edition of only 121. There are a few left, and these, too, are priced at $75. The deftness of its reference to both “fortune tellers” and the way they advertised themselves exemplifies the kind of genius of the artist. First of all, they had to even think of the idea, to imagine it. But then, they had to execute it! The result is stunning, and perfectly fits the ethos of the 21st century: at once ironic, a kind of wink-wink knowing among a generation raised on pop culture, rock n’ roll, and the 1960’s concert poster scene, and at once actual Art.
MadPixel has nine posters up on their website for My Morning Jacket, and there are plenty more bands they commemorate. Consider the Wax Fang poster from 2015.
Here the social reference, depending on how much you understand the wink-wink logic, should be clear. Why a cat? Well, notice that singular fang coming from its mouth: a play on the band name of course. But what one really wants to notice is the cigarette in the holder, the sunglasses, and that flowery shirt: This is a nod—an ode, really—to one of Louisville’s most famous figures, the late Hunter S. Thompson, an image that immediately calls to mind Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The doubled eyes and helmet (motorcycle helmet? spacesuit?) make it all the more surreal. The poster at once commemorates a show, an era, a cultural figure, and a heritage.
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Here’s the thing, and this is what really makes these posters so collectible and valuable: my generation, Generation X, was essentially raised on a pretty large past that included all that cultural stuff from the ’60s and ’70s (later generations only get that more, it seems to me, though now it’s not just Led Zeppelin t-shirts but Nirvana, as well). We grew up seeing Rolling Stone magazine chortle about Jimi Hendrix. We’ve seen all the old Haight-Ashbury-era posters. In fact, we’ve seen—through books, magazines, television, and now the Internet—a heritage that extends far back in American history. Thanks to Andy Warhol, who of course made these screenprints himself, we can now view pop cultural icons as art.
The artists themselves of my generation, in many cases. To support them is to support my tribe, in a sense. We can all have a wink together.