Iron & Wine June 8, 2011 First Avenue, Minneapolis
Sam Beam (otherwise known by his moniker Iron & Wine) arrived on the First Avenue stage nonchalantly as his 10-piece backing band filed on stage. He looked every inch like an old Southern gentleman, dressed in a dark suit and smiling mildly at the audience--which promptly erupted in applause and cheers.[jump]
"You guys are crazy!" laughed Beam. "All right, we're gonna play some music, and then we're gonna check back in shortly, okay?"
He opened with "Rabbit Will Run," enjoying himself and the contribution of his wind section. As Beam progressed through the 90-minute set, he brought to life the songs from his January-released Kiss Each Other Clean as well as introduced new arrangements of old songs. Beam's band was made up of a swarm of talented musicians, including new additions Marketa Irglova (the Swell Season) and Rosie Thomas on back-up vocals. Along with two percussionists, a keyboardist, and a full wind section, Beam lead the audience into a funky new sound.
Beam pushed himself vocally while hardly breaking a sweat, beginning "Walking Far From Home" with a soft a capella, so gentle you could hear everyone in the audience quietly singing along. He followed with "Wolves," which erupted into a lengthy (5+ minute) jam session midway through that recalled a trippy '70s vibe. It was there, in those moments where the clarinet and the saxophone were spotlighted, that Beam shone as his moved around the stage, clearly having some fun. On "House by the Sea," Beam let his band play up the Latin vibe.
In some ways, Beam far exceeded the amped expectations of the audience. He navigated his sound well out of the realm of bedroom folk, taking our hands into an extraordinary new world of full band operatic sub-pop folk genius. Beam's songwriting surpasses most other categorical comparisons--and there is no one else in his genre that matches his graceful, subversive storytelling, which unfolds oh-so-delicately. The new sound that he is working with--the big band influence and jazzy compositions--might exasperate some original fans, but will also bring in new ones. As Beam closed the night with the quiet and utterly powerful "He Lays In The Reins," it was clear that wherever he wanted to go musically, he would have a following.
Critic's Bias: I thought Shepherd's Dog was brilliant, and I thought Clean was even better. The Crowd: Young and old, and uncharacteristically polite for a super sold-out show. Overly polite, almost, like visiting a Caribou Coffee or going to Wells Fargo. Overheard In The Crowd: "Minneapolis LOVES YOU!" screamed a guy before Beam had started playing. Random Notebook Dump: I would be remiss to overlook the fantastic openers, Head and the Heart, who will surely not be touring as openers for much longer. Their piano and violin driven folk sound was pure and accomplished; relatively simple, in comparison to the big band sound and experimentation that Beam would unleash on the audience, but in some respects, the openers managed to hold the crowd's attention better than the headliner. For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Steve Cohen.