Iron & Wine
June 10, The Vogue
Eons ago, or back in 2002, Iron & Wine was the solo project of singer-songwriter Sam Beam, a guy recording whispery and meditative folk songs on a four-track in his basement. On Friday night at the Vogue, however, Iron & Wine featured a gaggle of musicians including a three-part horn section, two electric guitars and a bass, two percussionists, a keyboard player and two backup vocalists (am I missing anyone?).
If your only exposure to Iron & Wine was Beam's first album, The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002), and you were blindfolded and taken to Friday night's show, you might not have known you were watching the same performer. You might, however, have recognized Beam's beard and determinedly vacant stare, even if you weren't able to make out the highly literary quality of his lyrics due to poor sound mixing, plus the fact that Beam's seductively hushed voice seemed to get drowned out by his complex arrangements. Though it made for a great show, the 11-piece band just didn't seem to be the best vehicle for Beam's lyrics.
Beam took the stage looking every bit the Southern Hipster Gentleman in a rumpled black three-piece suit and collared shirt. His hair was already slick with sweat as he said his hellos and announced this was his first trip to Indianapolis. Iron & Wine then kicked things off with the song "Boy With a Coin," from their third album, Shepherd's Dog (2007), followed by a funky track from this year's album Kiss Each Other Clean, called "Me and Lazarus" ("He's an emancipated punk and he can dance / he's got a hole in the pocket of his pants").
From the get-go it seemed as though the bass, percussion, and sheer noise of it all were taking over and pushing the subtleties of Beam's voice into the corners. Perhaps for that reason, the crowd seemed disproportionately subdued. Or perhaps, like me, they'd turned out expecting to see a typical "one dude and his guitar" kind of show and simply didn't expect to get rocked. However, the crowd seemed to come around when the band played "Wolves (The Song of the Shepherd's Dog)," extending the song's closing jam into a trippy, 10-minute interlude with keyboard progressions that carried a mystical, Doors-like quality.
As the show wore on, it was evident that Iron & Wine has not merely added more instruments over the years, but that the group has also developed and branched out musically, playing around with different beats and genres. The band played a strikingly funk version of "Big Burned Hand," a heavily electronic and synth-y rendition of "Monkeys Uptown," and turned "House By the Sea" into a Caribbean, Afro-beat jam.
By the end of the show the crowd had fully awakened and, after thumping the floor enough to make the Vogue's balconies shake, called the band back on stage for a rocking encore performance of the romantic and catchy "Tree by the River."
The Head and the Heart opened the night with violinist and singer Charity Thielen appearing front-and-center. The Seattle-based group's debut album hit the shelves this year and was panned by critics as unoriginal. Indeed, other than Thielen's striking voice, there doesn't seem to be lot to distinguish this band from a host of other contemporary folk-rock groups. That said, when Thielen is allowed to really belt it out, such as at the end of the moving track "Rivers and Roads," even the most disillusioned critic cannot help but take notice.