Words by Eamon Foley :: Images by Robert Chapman
Iron & Wine :: 09.30.07 :: Town Hall :: New York, NY
Iron & Wine played an enjoyable if non-vintage performance in New York's historical Town Hall. Promoting latest album The Shepherd's Dog (released on September 25 through Sub Pop records) frontman Sam Beam brought along a full band to help broadcast his beefed-up sound. While the music itself was great, and featured some inspired instrumental interplay, the show lacked that spark that adds the fourth dimension to a record and leaves you buzzing.
| Iron & Wine :: 09.30 :: Town Hall|
The night featured no shortage of jams - they finished almost every song with one - Beam leading with guitar over great drumming by Chad Taylor (of Sea and Cake) and the magic of Paul Niehaus (Calexico) on pedal steel. With the new backing band, there is more substance to Iron and Wine's sound but they retain that easy Southern vibe. Following Beam's lead, the instruments meshed well like friends, conversation and a good bottle of vino.
The night featured a mix of old ("Jezebel") and new stuff, and while the majority of the set could be lazily described as good ol' fashioned rock & roll, the difference and evolution between past and present was clear. The new album is far more experimental and has a distinct folky feel with African highlights, infinitely fuller thanks to Beam being joined by his mates (members of Calexico return to build on joint project In The Reins from 2005).
| Sam Beam :: 09.30 :: Town Hall|
Between now and December they are touring between home and Europe, and their shows should please die-hard fans. To his gentle voice he has added depth through his seven or so talented companions. Leroy Bach (ex-Wilco) on keys, ever-present guitarist Patty McKinney and the understated bass of Matt Lux (Isotope 217), all play a part but Sam Beam remains the star.
He didn't leave his sparse sound with coat check however - the encore was a mellow "History of Lovers" accompanied by just his sister Sarah (violin and backing vocals), and Niehaus. Even with the band bouncing along behind him, the intimacy and soothing quality of his vocals was never lost.
The jams themselves were enjoyable and rollicking, but while his charm shone through, a lot of his plucking was done with his back to the crowd. Interaction - for me a key element of a show - was minimal throughout. Treading in the footsteps of performers such as Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Louis Armstrong over the last 85 years, Beam came off as somewhat lacking in presence. Rather than this grandiose setting, the original venue where there's "not a bad seat in the house", to me an Iron & Wine gig might be better spent laid out in a park, eyes closed and letting the words and music sink in under a setting sun.
Fair play to Beam for not resting on his laurels. Like a good year's grape harvest his music constantly develops and matures, never staying the same. Tonight the music pleased the senses but the performance was somewhat lacking - for this reason, I'll continue to enjoy his records and look forward to the next, but likely refrain from sampling him live.
Iron & Wine tour dates available HERE.
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