- by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date: Label:
The last time Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) came through town, it was a solo show. That’s a bit of an underwhelming statement compared to the reality of it. At that show, Beam strode on stage with acoustic guitar to much applause, paused and asked: “What do you want to hear?” That was the format for the next ninety minutes and it was amazingly intimate and effective. Some kid in his dad’s lap yelled out for ‘Dead Man’s Will’ and left me with nothing to do but be awed. There was no buffer between Beam and his audience that night many years ago, and though he had a four-piece primarily acoustic band in tow this time, the wall between artist and fan remained very transparent.
Opening for Beam and his crew were Chicago based trio OHMME. Led by singer/guitarists Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, with Matt Carroll on drums, on record, the group sounds like a cross between The New Pornographers’ pop sense and the sisters of Joseph’s off-kilter harmonies. Never quite playing it straight to keep things interesting. Here the group most resembled that approach on ‘Icon’ from this year’s Parts album towards the end of their set. Leading up to that, the group was surprisingly subdued but with Stewart leading most of the vocals, the group was still engaging. Lead off song ‘You, Your Face’ from their debut EP stretched out with Cunningham and Stewart coming in well into mid-song. ‘Liquour Cabinet’ and ‘Peach’ were more hushed than on record, but Cunningham’s smokier voice colored the former, while ‘Peach’ did maintain its herky-jerky rhythm. The set caught fire towards the end with ‘Icon’ and the staccato “ah ah ahs” of ‘Woman’ being highlights. Maybe the group was playing to Beam’s crowd, but it felt they were holding back a bit. Will definitely be on the lookout for what the future holds.
Iron & Wine’s combo this time out included Beam up front flanked by standup bassist, Sebastian Steinberg, and cellist, Helen Gillet. Harmonizing with Beam throughout were keyboardist, Eliza Hardy Jones, and ever so deft drummer, Beth Goodfellow. The group was well in synch, shading many quiet moments while also finding spots to kick things up a minor notch. The opener, ‘Winter Prayer’, was barely recognizable in its barebones approach but made for a subtle entry point. Like the prior show I had seen (though there it was invited), the audience felt compelled to banter with Beam between songs leading Beam to quip “it’s going to be one of those nights.” And it was, with someone suggesting Beam help us Floridians count run-off ballots as we so like to do down here, leading Beam to remind us that “math is hard.”
The jazzy percussion and tangential keyboard runs of ‘Monkeys Uptown’ was an early highlight. A dense take on ‘About a Bruise’ set the cottony stage clouds into an iridescent strobe of colors. The reddish hues making them hard to look like anything but flaming Cheetos. Beam played three songs solo including a stunning take on the Flaming Lips ‘Waitin’ for a Superman’ that brought the melancholy of the song to the forefront. On ‘Naked As We Came’, he had to remind someone it was not a “clap along type of song” bringing a chuckle from himself and the crowd. The mini-set showed that at his most exposed, Beam is also at his most effective.
The ensemble hit full stride after the solo break, with the limber groove of ‘Trapeze Swinger’ locking in seamlessly and Jones’ vocals on ‘Muddy Hymnal’ set that song apart. The more recent ‘Call It Dreaming’ and ‘Song in Stone’ showed that Beam is still composing at the top of his game. ‘Woman King’ gave the band a chance to rev things up a bit while the Byzantine tracings of ‘Boy With a Coin’ were mesmerizing to follow. Putting together a great set of songs from throughout his catalog, Beam showed himself to be a gracious and engaging performer once again, this time out with a little help from his friends.
All photos: Christa Joyner Moody