Iron & Wine, Roundhouse, London

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The Independent Culture

Sam Beam – who is Iron & Wine – obviously doesn't like to stand still. The folk of 2002's debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, won fans with its whispered tenderness. His follow-up, the gorgeous Our Endless Numbered Days, got a bit of professional polish. The Shepherd's Dog from 2007 was more eclectic, and electric. And on this year's Kiss Each Other Clean, the journey continues – there's barely a man-and-guitar number on the horizon. Instead, we have expansive folk-rock that flings around sax solos, funky flute, squelchy synth and fuzzy electric guitars. Ambitious it may be, but intimate it isn't.

Predictably, Beam's live show reflects this, and he's joined by seven band mates. From the opener, we get their full blast. "Boy with a Coin" sees the handclaps and fingerpicking of the record re-created with the ticking time-keeping of two percussionists.

Beam, with that famously abundant beard, apologetically announces: "I'm nursing a cold, so I'm going to do my best." It isn't his fault but it is a shame. There are times when his vocal combination of warm growl, gentle whisper and lifting falsetto struggle over all that dense instrumentation.

The third number, "Wolves", a dub-influenced track from The Shepherd's Dog, seems like an odd choice – an extended period of guitar and electronic noodling creates an energy vacuum so early in the performance.

But as Beam swaps to acoustic we're promised some "real old songs", and we're on more familiar ground with the harmonies and lazy beat of "Lion's Mane". Yet almost every old track is given a new, lush, sometimes unrecognisable, arrangement, as with "Cinder and Smoke". Its layered keyboards and vocals, and a new syncopated beat, are wrong-footingly different, and ultimately the song loses its emotional directness.

The last number, "Naked as We Came", is performed by half the group and is lovely. It's the only truly moving moment of the night, proving that sometimes, less really is more.

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