For those who have followed Sam Beam since his earliest days as Iron and Wine, the 10-piece band that backed the bearded singer-songwriter shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Beam’s sound has expanded steadily since the release of his hushed, understated debut The Creek Drank the Cradle in 2002, culminating in his first major-label release, Kiss Each Other Clean, early this year.
What may have been eye opening – or, at the very least, ear-opening – to those soaking in the sold-out Iron and Wine show at the House of Blues last night was the changes many of their favorite songs have undergone. Beam’s catalog has been re-imagined to incorporate the talents of his entire band (guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, a 3-piece horn section and two backup singers, including Markéta Irglová of the Swell Season), the members of which backed Beam for his entire 90-minute main set. Though the results were a somewhat mixed bag, it was a daring move that kept the audience on its toes throughout.
The set started off in very strong fashion with the crowd-pleaser “Boy With a Coin” followed by the swirling, airy “God Made the Automobile.” The band really started to stretch its legs on the standout Kiss Each Other Clean track “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven” and the b-side “Summer in Savannah,” which served as the first real hint at the more extreme song reinterpretations that were still to come. “Wolves” featured an extended instrumental jam before letting way to the playful flute playing that carried “Big Burned Hand.”
Later, “Free Until They Cut Me Down” could have been an anchor of the set, but few seemed to recognize the Our Endless Numbered Days favorite as it was re-imagined as a slow, dark number filled with chaotic percussion very much in the vein of Wilco’s “Via Chicago.” That was in stark contrast to “House By the Sea,” which showcased the big band at its best as everything clicked perfectly, from the vocals to the horns and auxiliary percussion.
Toward the end of the set, Iron and Wine segued from “Me and Lazarus” into an all-out rock take on “Woman King” and finally into a head-scratching rendition of “Fever Dream” that was nearly unrecognizable – even slower than the original, and completely lacking the intimacy that makes the song a cornerstone of Beam’s repertoire.
The encore was more along the lines of what many were expecting for the bulk of the evening: a perfectly pleasing rendition of “Naked as We Came” with Beam backed by a mandolin, his backing singers and gentle keys. After all the unexpected twists and turns, though, it came off as a little vanilla.
The Low Anthem opened the show with a half-hour set of its quietest material, nevertheless working the crowd into a frenzy with some spooky cell phone-induced wizardry during “This God Damn House” (read about the trick here).
Iron and Wine’s Setlist:
Boy with a Coin / God Made the Automobile / Freedom Hangs Like Heaven / Summer in Savannah / Walking Far From Home / My Lady’s House / Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog) / Big Burned Hand / Half Moon / Arms of a Thief -> The Devil Never Sleeps / Free Until They Cut Me Down / House By the Sea / Weary Memory / Me and Lazarus -> Woman King -> Fever Dream / Tree By the River // Naked as We Came
The Low Anthem’s Setlist:
To the Ghosts Who Write History Books / Matter of Time / Ghost Woman Blues / ? (Love and Altar?) / Burn / This God Damn House / Bird on a Wire (L. Cohen)
Iron and Wine:
The Low Anthem: