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.
All that musical accompaniment may be a luxury that comes with his new major-label status, but it seems from his Fillmore performance that Beam is still learning how to integrate these new elements without losing the clarity he achieves with his older, guy-and-a-guitar work. As the band grew from four to six to eight, the show lost momentum at about the same rate.
"House by the Sea," from The Shepherd's Dog, was cluttered in this way. And the audience's attention started to wander for the next song, as Beam slowed down to play "The Sea and the Rhythm," from a 2002 EP.
Beam and his band jammed for several minutes in the middle of "Wolves (The Shepherd's Dog)," but it still seemed disjointed. After the encore, I was hoping for "Teeth in the Grass" or "Cinder and Smoke," but we got something else instead. But maybe it's unfair to expect an artist like Beam to close with a bang.
By the way: Several audience members were tittered at Beam's female backup singer and her extremely high speaking voice.
The crowd: Unfortunately, there were only as many beards on the floor as there were on the stage but a lot of people who classify as amiable.
Personal bias: The good news for fans is that Beam didn't even play some of the best songs on his soon-to-be-released album Kiss Each Other Clean. And at least one tune from that album, "Monkeys Uptown," was among the highlights of the show.
1. Flightless Bird, American Mouth
2. Upward Over the Mountain
3. The Trapeze Swinger
4. Peace Beneath the City
5. Half Moon
6. Naked as We Came
7. Woman King
10. Flightless Bird
11. Monkeys Uptown
12. House by the Sea
13. The Sea and the Rhythm
14. Pagan Angel and Borrowed Car
15. My Lady's House
16. Summer in Savannah
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17. Innocent Bones
18. Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)