Thursday, April 21, 2011

Skip Serpico's Concert Adventures - Iron & Wine @ Rams Head Live 4/20/11

When an artist makes a name for themselves with a  distinct sound it can make it difficult for them to grow, artistically.  If they try to grow or broaden their sound, the sometimes run the risk of alienating "fans" who are fans not of the artist in question, but of the sound.

Iron & Wine stands at that crossroads at this very moment.  Sam Beam made a name for himself as Iron & Wine with quiet acoustic song featuring hushed singing and poignant lyrics.  Since then Iron & Wine has blossomed into a full band and the sound has exploded accordingly.

And I saw them live on 4/20.

I hit Rams Head around 7:30 and the place was already pretty decently packed, considering the doors had only been open for half an hour.  Signage said the show was sold out and I believed.

I killed some time some people I met at the show (Megan, Alex and their two friends, whose names I totally forgot.)  Shortly after 8pm, the Low Anthem took the stage and they quickly had the audience buzzing, mostly about Mat Davidson's singing saw playing skills.

The Low Anthem wowed everyone with their skills at multi-instrumentalism.  Throughout their opening set each member bounced around the stage playing a variety of instruments (at least three apiece.)  Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and Davidson played a solid mix showcasing their various sounds.

They really impressed me.  Like they impressed me enough that not only am I planning on picking up their entire catalogue, but I really want to see them headline.  I bought the ticket to see Iron & Wine, but I still felt like The Low Anthem's set was too short.
Next was a relatively brief wait before a completely staffed Iron & Wine came out and started things out with the rousing "Me and Lazarus" from their latest offering Kiss Each Other Clean.  It was actually a sign of things to come.

From there Iron & Wine (featuring a drummer, percussionist, bass, guitarist, keyboard player, two back up singers and three horns in addition to Beam) played a set that encompassed basically their entire catalogue, with only the collaborative effort with Calexico, In the Reins, not making an appearance.  Even B-sides "Summer in Savannah" and "Arms of a Thief" were among the songs played.

But with a full band performing, even the familiar sounded new.  Case in point, the second song played, "Sunset Soon Forgotten," which now boasted a glorious lushness absent from the album version.   Virtually very song featured a new arrangement or something spruced up.

Iron & Wine used to be a band whose songs were so gentle that you swayed to them.   However on the current tour those same songs have become something to dance to.  Or at least to get some serious head nodding to.  It's surprisingly surprising how well the songs sound and how well the musicians have gelled together.

The concert had a sort of "jam band" feel to it, as songs bleed into each other or were stretched out to take on new forms.  It was really quite the experience.

As an encore Beam came out and performed an acoustic "Upward Over the Mountain."  Just as he began the final verse, a fan in the front offered up an enthusiastic "WHOOOO" which caused Beam lose his composure and begin laughing, which in turn elicited applause and laughter from the audience.  It was a pretty cool moment.

But after the song Beam bid farewell and departed the stage.  It was a one song encore, but a fitting end.

The show also featured a couple other really human moments.  A drum needed replacing.  Beam slipped up on some lyrics.  And whenever anyone from the audience hurled praise in his direction, Beam swatted it away with self deprecation.  

 At merch table I picked up the cd of Iron & Wine's concert at Norfolk on 6/20/05 and comparing the two shows the difference is remarkable.  Anyone expecting to hear a quiet acoustic set with Beam on this tour is going to be disappointed.

My favorite song on Kiss Each Other Clean is "Your Fake Name is Good Enough For Me" and to me that song is a perfect primer for seeing Iron & Wine live.  That song best exemplifies what you're buying a ticket for.

This tour offers a lively show full of fleshed out songs by an artist who doesn't seem to be finished growing.

I cannot recommend seeing Iron & Wine live enough.  And honestly, with The Low Anthem opening, it's an insane 1-2 punch.

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