Nearly 10 years ago Sam Beam, under the moniker Iron & Wine, emerged as one of the leading pioneers of the new folk revival with his stunning debut album The CreekIron & Wine Courtesy Photo Drank the Cradle from the influential indie label Sub Pop Records. The album’s delicate acoustic folk rhythms and hushed vocals quickly launched Mr. Beam’s career and established him as an icon in the indie music world. Nearly a decade later, with Beam’s new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, his traditionally singular solo acoustic act has evolved into a full-fledged band complete with a horn section and backup singers. On Friday night, the 36-year-old former University of Miami film professor brought his entire entourage to Washington, D.C.’s famed 9:30 club for an electrifying performance covering the entire spectrum of his decade-long music career.
Opening the show were the fast-rising Providence, RI folk quartet, The Low Anthem, whose stripped-down traditional folk ballads—greatly reminiscent of Beam’s early material—were an appropriate enough opener for the show.
The band performed a stellar 45-minute set that included a few bare-boned songs featuring the four members huddled around a single mike, singing in harmony against a delicate, acoustic melody. With their blend of traditional folk melodies, classic indie rock sensibility, and a vast multi-instrumental pallet, The Low Anthem are sure to rise to a level of popularity akin to their kindred spirits, Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers.
Iron & Wine, who is touring for Kiss Each Other Clean, the band’s major-label debut album for Warner Brothers faced quite a predicament Friday night. That was, how would they bring the essence of the wildly inventive and intensely transformative album to the stage while winning over new audiences and pleasing seasoned fans?
The humble and pragmatic Beam seemed unflinched by this challenge as he and his 11-piece band went on stage and immediately ripped into the funky synth-driven tune “Me and Lazerus”, the second track from the new album. As anticipated, Beam led his ensemble through nearly half of his new album, which evolved into an ultra-funky pseudo-psychedelic jam that had the audience grooving throughout the entire 90-minute set. Beam and company performed several new tracks from the album including the catchy, jazz-fused crooning single “Walking Far From Home”, as well as “Big Burned Hand”, “Glad Man Singing”, and the acoustic, more classic-Iron & Wine-like tune, “Tree By The River”.
However, the evening’s real charm came from classics that Beam interlaced with new songs during the concert. There he remade into full-fledged, big-band renditions his originally stripped-down classics such as “Cinder and Smoke”, “Free Until They Cut Me Down” and “Lion’s Mane”. It was a refreshing change to hear the soft folk ballads that branded Iron & Wine’s sound in the early days transformed into full jams. After the set, Beam returned for a one song encore; a soft, lo-fi, near-a capella rendition of “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” (from the Twilight soundtrack), that left the audience breathless and assured that Mr. Beam hasn’t forgotten his roots. Overall, with a perfect mix of newbies, oldies, and fresh takes on old songs that almost make them new again, Beam, a bit reinvented, remained true to who he was as an artist.