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Iron & Wine at Fillmore Miami Beach, November 18

Iron & Wine
Fillmore Miami Beach, Miami
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Better than: Just iron or just wine or Badly Drawn Boy.

Midway through a raucous (for him) show at the Fillmore last night, Iron & Wine's Sam Beam mused over how little South Florida had changed in

the five years since he was last here. The water is still "beautiful."

The transients still seem oblivious to the fact that "there are toilets

around here that aren't in the bushes."

Rather, it's Beam who has changed. He was working as a professor of

cinematography at the University of Miami when he developed the mellow,

whispering style that propelled him to a deal with Sub Pop and a place

among indie rock's poet laureates, as well as a new residence in Austin,

and, most recently, a deal with a major label, Warner Bros.

With each passing album, Beam's voice has grown both in volume and in texture -- he's rescued it from the back of his throat. This change was most evident when Beam sang from his debut album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, from 2002. "Upward Over the Mountain" is breathed into the microphone in that studio recording. Beam's new, more forceful tone gives that song an intensity that suits the lyrics nicely.

It came after a gorgeous opener: an a cappella version of "Flightless Bird, American Mouth." Together, those two songs gave the Fillmore, which was only about three-quarters full, an intimate, coffeehouse vibe. "As much as I like playing Churchill's," said Beam, cracking a wry grin, "I'm glad I'm here." He compared that venue to the Star Wars cantina -- a joke that found empathy among this cosmopolitan-looking crowd.

For a guy who comes off as a daydreaming introvert in his lyrics, Beam has surprising charm with an audience. On several occasions, an audience member shouted out something ridiculous or hysterical, leading Beam to deliver a deadpan riposte. "That's some weird shit, man," he said, that massive beard and the slight stoner lilt to his voice having a Tommy Chong effect.

At one point, Beam offered to tell the audience a story, leading one member to shout hopefully, "About your facial hair?" Yes, that beard is epic -- the diameter has shrunk, but it's very thick and still formidable. Of the eight other band members who joined Beam on stage at some point in the evening, only one was clean-shaven, and another was female. The six beard-sporting players didn't dare attempt facial hair that could upstage the frontman. Sam Beam is Iron & Wine. He's the alpha beard.

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Thomas Francis

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