Iron and Wine, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Far from a vintage show as the Iron man pumps up the volume
Monday 17 October 2011
For Sam Beam, the 37-year-old who goes by Iron & Wine, this west London show is the loud of his loud'n'quiet two UK shows.
We're a long way from Pixies territory noise-wise, but this is the counterpoint to the previous night's performance at the Hackney Empire, when Beam showcased the quieter sound with which he made his name(s).
Beam plays a couple of the same tracks – including "Woman King" – over the two nights, but this time he's accompanied by a full band. These session players include two backing singers [including fellow Sub Pop artist Rosie Thomas and Beam's sister Sarah Simpson], a percussionist and, most noticeably a horn section, which roots and toots through most of the night.
Iron & Wine's initial breakthrough in 2004 came with Our Endless Numbered Days, a wandering acoustic stroll that combined airy acoustic lightness with Sub Pop cool. An appearance on the mega-selling soundtrack to Zach Braff's Garden State helped too. It was enough to light a smouldering fire under Beam's career that saw this year's Kiss Each Other Clean, his fourth LP, chart in the US at a staggering number two on the Billboard charts. Albeit in a generally low-selling week.
The New York Times called Kiss Each Other Clean a "boisterous bar crawl", but it's not quite that. Even if it is a long stretch from the folk simplicity long associated with him. But with the help of the other band members, Beam is in bar-jam territory tonight, adding layers of noise to tracks from across his career. And it's fine to a point, but the overbearing session-rock sound strips the songs of the nuance that soaks through his work. One of the pleasant exceptions is an older track, "The Sea Rhythm", which is artfully reconstructed using looped on-stage recordings of various song elements.
The overall effect then, is somewhat lacklustre, with some of the crowd looking openly bored. Or, to be generous, just drowsy (if that's any better?). Beam still receives a boisterous send-off before returning for a jazzed-up encore version of Endless Numbered Days' "On Your Wings".
Beam is a compelling singer who, even while going slowly, can translate his artistic urgency on record. But live, in this context, this cup of Wine runneth under.
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