Iron & Wine at First Avenue, 9/18/13

Iron & Wine at First Avenue, 9/18/13
Photo by Emily Erotas

Iron & Wine with Widowspeak
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Don't come to an Iron & Wine show expecting low-key, subdued set. Well, you can expect it -- but those expectations will only be met for a small portion of the show. Sam Beam and his epic beard brought along a 12-piece band to the First Avenue Mainroom on Wednesday night, rocking and adding new layers to Sam's already dense music.

With a band that included three backup singers who blended wonderfully with Beam, violinist, violist, cellist, keyboardist, bassist, drummer, two saxophonists/clarinetists, and trumpeter, Iron & Wine could have been mistaken for an orchestra. Starting the show on an upbeat note, Iron & Wine's horn section doo-wopped and grooved through the "The Desert Babbler" from Sam's latest release, Ghost on Ghost. While Iron & Wine's older fans have passed on Beam's more recent releases in favor of the beautiful melancholy that is his solo work, it couldn't be denied that the group onstage was having a great time. The crowd, however, was reluctant to warm up until a few songs in.

Iron & Wine drew from the band's extensive catalog, including pieces from 2007′s The Shepherd's Dog and 2009′s Around the Well. Pulling out saxophone and trumpet solos early, "Carousel" and "Kingdom of the Animals" charmed, but Beam's vocals got lost in such a big sound -- a shame since Sam's lyrics are so important to the songs. Each piece is a mini-story within itself, allowing Beam to live a different life in each song. The chance to allow his fragile voice to shine through came halfway through the set.

As the band made their way off the stage, leaving behind the string trio and keyboardist, Sam enchanted as he sang his cover of the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights." In his hands, the song took on another life -- poignant and delicate -- almost tear-jerking. Most musicians don't often take requests during shows, but Beam obliged, bringing about a playfulness to the show.

With "Boy With a Coin," he said laughingly, "I have played this song for every show for the last fucking seven years. If you eat the same fucking meal for the same seven years, it's time to try something else." Thank goodness no one shouted out the original request "Freebird," but the request for "Upward Over the Mountain" had Sam stumbling twice. His charming laughter laced the lyrics, he stopped the song, saying, "I have no problem embarrassing myself in front of you. I got my foot in shit now; I just gotta stomp it out. When I did that fuckup on that song, I was thinking, 'What if Don Henley did that across the street?'"
Asking for more requests, he brought out "Resurrection Fern" and a new piece "Waves of Galveston," another tender piece off the new album. Taking one more dig at the Eagles, someone called out a suggestion for "Hotel California." Beam laughingly said, "If you lean your head out the window, it will caress your ears."

The band was brought back out onstage for the rest of the set, pulling a better level of energy from the crowd, who were on a natural high from Beam's jukebox solo intermission. The band zipped through the next six songs until their closer, "Your Fake Name is Good Enough," brought out the "jam-band" in the band. The piece began slow and built up to a jam session that had solos and showed off the band's chops.

Gracious and happy, Beam came out for a one-song encore, pleasing diehards once again with "Love Vigilantes." Someone had shouted out the request during his solo set, and Sam acquiesced by ending the night on the song set around a military man. With this piece, the singer said, "I'm gonna do one more and send you on your way."

Critic's bias: It was interesting to see such a big band onstage with Sam Beam, but I felt it was a little too much sometimes. Perhaps the [sound] mix was a little off. I really wanted to like the opener Widowspeak, a throwback to Mazzy Star with their hazy, dreamy music, but it was a little uninspiring.

The crowd: An interesting mix of 20-something hipsters and middle-aged suburbanites.

Overheard in the crowd: "I fucking hate the Eagles!"

Random notebook dump: Iron & Wine's set ended before the Eagles got out across the street at the Target Center, allowing the First Avenue crowd the chance to get out of Downtown before the gates of hell opened up.


The Desert Babbler
Kingdom of the Animals
Tree By the River
The Trapeze Swinger
Sixteen Maybe Less
Belated Promise Ring
Baby Center Stage
Monkeys Uptown
Such Great Heights
Boy With a Coin
Upward Over the Mountain
Resurrection Fern
Waves of Galveston
Caught in the Briars
Sundown (Back in the Briars)
Grace For Saints and Ramblers
Low Light Buddy of Mine
Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me

Love Vigilantes

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