Monday, September 24, 2007

Iron & Wine @ Metro

Hypnotizing set sacrifices intimacy for virtuosity

I had been waiting for this night for quite some time. Way back in 2004, already nursing an unhealthy obsession with Iron & Wine, I was given an opportunity to meet Mr. Sam Beam in Gainesville, Fla., as our "bands" had coincidentally hit town mid-tour on the same night. He was playing a small intimate club with a small band a mere block away, and if I knew then what I know now, I would have developed instant laryngitis, canceled my show, and nestled in front row center, only a boy-with-a-coin-throw away.

What is it that I know now? Well, one thing's for certain: Iron & Wine will not be playing small, intimate clubs with small bands anytime this decade… and that's a shame. Of course there is allure in the syncopated rhythms and higher-fidelity recordings of his new records. Of course there is something special in hearing your favorite album songs given the grand treatment onstage, complete with two drummers, stand-up bass, slide guitar, violin, accordion and handclaps galore. However, the aspect of Iron & Wine that keeps me listening, goosebumped and awestruck, is the absolute simplicity of Sam Beam's breathy angelic voice over gently strummed and finger-plucked acoustic guitar. This is what was so crucially missing from his Metro performance Sunday night.

Stepping onto a very dimly (read: barely) lit stage, Sam and band kicked right into one of the standout tracks on The Shepherd's Dog, "Lovesong of the Buzzard," and the sold out crowd was rapt in attention. After the thunderous applause, Beam explained apologetically that they were going to play many new songs from the upcoming record. "If you have the Internet, you've probably heard it already," he added jokingly, and then delivered on his promise, eventually playing the entire record of songs with only one song from each of the older records sprinkled in: "Upward Over the Mountain," "Sodom South Georgia," "Jezebel," "The Sea and the Rhythm," and his only encore, "A History of Lovers" from the Calexico collaboration.

Aside from the catchy clapalong, "Boy With a Coin," most of the new songs were weighed down by extended intros and (for lack of a kinder word) "jams." Despite Beam's quip regarding the rampant downloading of the record, the crowd seemed restless during these moments, as if patiently waiting for them to end and for something familiar to begin. This was even made vocal when "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" was announced as the last song. The deep groan that followed was not that of faux-concern in anticipation of an encore. I heard genuine disappointment. As previously mentioned, the ensuing encore was only one song with very slight accompaniment. A hint of what could've and maybe should've been… and then the house lights. Most certainly a hint of what I missed three years ago in Gainesville, that's for sure. - B. Nanna

Photo by Craig Shimala