Show Review + Setlist + Photos: Iron & Wine Takes a Sonic Sojourn, Gets Lost Along the Way at the Pageant, Saturday, November 13

Categories: Reviews

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Kholood Eid
Sam Beam of Iron & Wine
As soon as he strode onto the low-lit Pageant stage, it was clear that Sam Beam was a changed man. Not only had the Iron & Wine leader trimmed his famed beard and flowing locks to a respectable length, the singer and guitarist was downright chatty even before he played the first note. Gone is the shy, shambling Beam whose low-slung, intricately crafted folk songs pierced the soul like a devastating secret. Instead, last night's show confirmed his status as charming, engaging bandleader, an oft-heartbreaking singer and a tireless tinkerer of his own work. But after nearly two hours of largely reworked material with the aid of a new backing band, this new direction seemed like either a half-baked idea or an outright misstep.

For longtime fans, the show began in a comforting, familiar fashion. Beam played a five-song set of solo acoustic songs from all corners of his catalog, starting with the Twilight soundtrack inclusion "Flightless Bird, American Mouth." He performed the majority of the song a cappella, pushing his strong falsetto and full-bodied croon toward the rafters. With a largely respectful audience already in rapt attention, Beam could have easily stepped away from the microphone and let his voice carry. He followed with another soundtrack-based rarity, "The Trapeze Swinger"; here, he altered the tempo to allow the song's circular pattern to facilitate a push-and-pull that worked perfectly in the solo setting.

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Kholood Eid
As the bulk of the concert would prove, Beam has no qualms about changing the arrangements and overall moods of his songs; even during the solo section, one had to listen closely to pick out the tune of even his best-loved songs. "Evening on the Ground (Lilith's Song)" slowed to a menacing gait, which allowed Beam's rich, knotty lyrics to take on a darker tone. The song highlights one of his songwriting specialties: taking Bible passages and turning them into short works of Southern Gothic fiction. The next song, "Naked as We Came," displayed one of his other trademarks: writing beautifully fatalistic love songs. No one else makes the prospect of growing old and dying in the arms of a lover sound so enticing.

The solo set wrapped with the Oedipal ballad "Upward Over the Mountain," a standout from his 2002 debut The Creek Drank the Cradle. It was an appropriate transition from the Iron & Wine of old to its current incarnation, as Beam introduced his six-piece backing band. Some familiar faces helped Beam flesh out his songs, as Calexico cohort Nick Luca sat behind a bank of keyboards and fellow Sub Pop alum Rosie Thomas sang harmony vocals. The full-band set began shakily, as the b-side "Morning" never quite congealed - the punchy electric piano and slinky Telecaster tones didn't blend well, and the presence of a full-time percussionist steered the whole affair uncomfortably close to an anaesthetized Grateful Dead jam.

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Kholood Eid
"My Lady's House" only upped the weirdness by turning the acoustic ballad into an honest-to-God slow jam. Beam's songwriting has always exuded a certain sensuality, but the new arrangement suggested "Sexual Healing" for the heavily flannelled. When the band found the groove, the results veered from interlocking polyrhythmic jams to reggae-folk riddims to something approaching worldbeat. Sometimes, it fit the mood of the songs: "Sodom, South Georgia" made good use of the synthetic bass tones emitting from the bassist's tiny keyboard, and "Pagan Angel & a Borrowed Car" recalled some of Wilco's best experimental bits.

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5 comments
Ryan Chilton
Ryan Chilton

The first set of acoustic songs were amazing! I was intrigued by the first few songs that were changed up and featured the full band, but I didn't really feel like I was watching an Iron & Wine show at that point. The second half of the show sounded like a fusion rock jam band and Sam's vocals were sometimes drowned out by the noise. I enjoyed the show but would have enjoyed it much better without the full band. Pretty sweet that you can see me and my brother in the front row in some of the pics though!

Ryan Wasoba
Ryan Wasoba

"There is never a reason to run a banjo through a battery of Moog effects pedals."

Hey Christian, did you mean to say "always" instead of "never?"

nuevo
nuevo

First show I can recall where at any given time you could pick out at least three people sleeping somewhere in the balcony

Aaron
Aaron

We really enjoyed the show, even if the new arrangements sounded like they might crash and burn at any time. The sound was a little muddy for a Pageant show; not sure if it was our location or simply a new ensemble finding its way.

Jake
Jake

Great revew, I didn't catch the show this time but in all honesty you hit the head on why the 2008 show was so frustrating.

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