This past weekend, I had the great privilege of seeing Iron & Wine at the 9:30 Club. I haven’t been this amped for a concert since my last visit to 9:30, where I saw Mumford & Sons. I have referred to the Mumford show as the best concert I have ever been to (and probably the best I will ever experience), but seeing Iron & Wine (Sam Beam) is in its own category.
The entire metro ride there I was getting the “freak out chills” in my state of pure jubilation. Though, looking back, this may have been a product of the slightly sketchy company on DC’s metro lines. Regardless, we got there well before the opening act, Low Anthem, to take our position just feet away from the lead mic.
By the time Sam Beam and his ten piece collaboration arrived on stage, I was slightly losing it. The man is a living legend of the indie music scene; a performer I have admired and followed closely for years. For those of you that have listened to Iron & Wine’s new CD, Kiss Each Other Clean, I understand your apprehension. Upon first listen, it’s different, and seeing Beam up there with ten other musicians (full horns, drums, keyboard, electric guitar, etc.) was a kind of difficult to digest. It took me a few listens of the new album to figure out that this was the same Iron & Wine I know and love, just with something extra (in a good way). Now I’m hooked.
Beam played a nineteen song show with six songs coming from the new album. Honestly, during the show, it was somewhat difficult for me to distinguish between old and new. This was part of the genius of the night. With the band, something new was added to each classic Iron & Wine song. About a third of the way through the set, it dawned on me that I was witnessing something historic, something life changing. A step-back-and-Wow moment, if you will. Beam was playing old and new, mixed expertly. Walking Far From Home, one of my favorite new songs, led perfectly into Cinder and Smoke, an I&W mainstay. The delicacy at which this was accomplished was something to behold.
Every time Beam threw out an old song, the band would start off playing in full, then, halfway through, the lights would all focus on Beam, center stage, and he would take the song back to its origins. Two of the more memorable songs were Lion’s Mane and Free Until They Cut Me Down, both off of The Creek Drank the Cradle. Just as I was starting to dig the new version of the song, the band went quiet and it was just Beam, belting those beautiful lyrics. Glad Man Singing, a new song, split those two classics. This is where I heard something I never thought possible at an Iron & Wine concert… jamming. An in your face jam session, highlighted by Beam ripping guitar and some guy on sax/trumpet that absolutely killed it. The two of them had the crowd and it was their’s to move.
Beam was constantly engaged with the audience between songs. Granted, much of the back and forth was somewhat annoying because the shout outs were coming from 18 year olds. So, I felt it was my duty to represent the more mature crowd and say hey to the man himself. I shouted; “Your beard inspires me!” to which Beam replied, “That frightens me”. Sam Beam, the king of cool. That right there, made my decade. To put my comment in context, I’m currently wearing a pretty serious beard and Beam is famous for being the bearded man. He even has children that have never seen him bare-faced. Truly inspiring.
To close the night out, Beam came back onto the stage solo for the encore. He proceeded to play a deeply personal rendition of Flightless Bird. He carried out his acoustic but only strummed maybe five chords the entire song. It was mesmerizing. The entire crowd was lost in the song. Not a single person attempted to sing along with the lyrics. The song, and the night, belonged to Beam.