Iron & Wine | 06.13.08

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 Photo: Joanna Kleine 

He sang, "Will you say when I’m gone away. ‘My lover came to me and we’d lay, in rooms unfamiliar but until now.’" This tender verse was the perfect introduction to the night, immediately hooking the audience and setting the stage for greater things yet to come.

 

The Pageant, St. Louis

With Iron and Wine’s success now firmly sustained, including three well-received records, a hit cover tune, and inclusion in some of the hippest soundtracks in recent memory, it’s no surprise that a packed crowd welcomed Sam Beam with nervously excited admiration in St. Louis last week. Beam’s popularity can be attributed to his fearless ability to take something deeply personal and communicate it in a universal way. Last Friday was no exception, Beam and his backup band gave a stellar performance, giving it allin brazen dedication to the material. One song, "Resurrection Fern," reads likea frank manifesto of this philosophy, "We gave the world what it saw fit, and what’d we get?" In my best interpretation, Beam’s mantra seems to say "live passionately, while acknowledging that it all will end; furiously live with one weary eye on the grave." This sense of productive generosity seemed to thrive beneath the surface of every lyric, strum, and gentle hum last week.

Oklahoma City natives The Uglysuit kicked off the festivities with an infectious brand of jam-infused pop rock. Quasi-epic instrumental sections sprawled out amidst singer Israel Hindman’s high-pitched, distant vocals. The group’s St. Louis debut revealed the sextet as a charismatic, youthful collective who weren’t afraid to rock out (as shown by bassist Matt Harrison’s wild hair-twirling-head-pounding during almost every song). Think of them as a poppy Mogwai, carefully towing the line between intricately epic and fun-loving accessibility. After their performance, the members joined the crowd in the pit to wait for Iron and Wine.

The set started the way you might expect, Beam slinging an acoustic guitar, and backed by his harmonizing sister, Sarah. The two played soft, thoughtful narratives crafted with equal parts delicacy and introspection. Emerging from the brown forest of hair which surrounds Beam’smouth were the first lines of "Each Coming Night." He sang, "Will you say whenI’m gone away. ‘My lover came to me and we’d lay, in rooms unfamiliar but until now.’" This tender verse was the perfect introduction to the night, immediately hooking the audience and setting the stage for greater things yet to come.

After the first two songs, Sarah picked up a violin and an onslaught of other supporting musicians, including a drummer, auxiliary percussionist, bassist, pianist, marimba player, and slide guitar player joined Beam onstage. With these additions, Beam’s delicate compositions took on a refreshing, dare I say sexy, air. The surrounding musicians expanded on the familiar elements in Iron and Wine’s recordings, and transformed them from contemplative acoustic introspection, to…well, baby making music. An electric guitar (a Gibson SG) replaced his trademark acoustic six-stringer, giving his normally low-fi aesthetic a crisper, more resolute edge. His vocals were also slightly different, as Beam cautiously howled with a catchy syncopation. These live versions steered away from their studio counterparts, but still remained recognizable. Long jam sessions took over the meat of many songs, as Beam and his cohorts spiraled into indulgent sections of psychedelic instrumentation, which used the more recognizable parts as bookends. This approach was both interesting and impressive.

One the most important elements of the performance appeared comical at first: Auxiliary percussionist Ben Massarella (Califone) layered intricate rhythms over the full band versions. It gave the entire night a fresh feel, showering old songs with the dense percussion Beam worked with on Shepard’s Dog. The long-haired Massarella looked like a mad scientist, sitting behind tables of trinkets. He’d pick up a block, hold it for a few seconds (waiting for the exact right time), and hit it once, aiming carefully at his condenser mic, then he’d quickly set it down to grab something else. His contributions, although minimal, added immense eclecticism, as he swam on top of the beat the entire evening, playing everything from wooden boxes, to shakers, to steel drums.

Midway through this spell binding experience, an obvious fan of Iron and Wine, who perhaps had too much of the latter, sloppily interrupted the proceedings with a request, a demand rather. The man impolitely voiced his request, and I quote, "Rock this possy!" Beam, who was checking his guitar’s tune, stopped and quizzically asked, "Rock this possy?" The drunkard repeated himself a few times, taking everyone’s eyes and ears offstage, and struggled against his friend’s objections to take off his shirt and hurl it at Beam. After our boisterous friend was escorted away the band seemed thrown off course by the distraction.Beam cleverly began "Carousel," whose opening line is, "Almost home, and Imissed the bottom stair."

The night ended with an encore performance of a crowd favorite, "Resurrection Fern." The stage was pared down to just Beam and hissister, and the crowd giddily hooted in affectionate recognition as he plucked the song’s first arpeggio. As the song, and the night, came to a close, Beam reiterated the night’s prerogative, "We gave the world what it saw fit, and what’d we get?" Iron and Wine did indeed give the night all they had, and by bearing witness, we got something unforgettable in return.  | Glen Elkins

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