My review of last Monday’s Iron and Wine concert is in The Irish Times today, and can be read here, but the short version is: a bit disappointing, actually. The guy’s determined to keep experimenting, which is always to be admired, but that sweet voice was often overwhelmed by the honking sax, and the effect was sometimes more naff than funky. Here, though, is my review from the first time I saw Sam Beam and co, a wonderful show at the Ambassador in 2007. Okay, the place hasn’t been turned into a library, but otherwise I stand by every word, and hopefully I’ll be similarly impressed with another Iron and Wine gig in the future.
Iron and Wine, reviewed in The Irish Times on Monday, October 29th, 2007.
The Ambassador, Dublin
The success of most live performances can best be gauged by how much the bands can get a crowd to move – an audience pogoing in unison and waving its arms to the heavens is a crowd that is enjoying itself. The brilliance of an Iron and Wine concert, however, can be seen in the way the crowd is rendered still by the music, absorbing every note, listening to every softly sung lyric.
The lucky music fans who made their way to the Ambassador to catch the folk sounds of Sam Beam and his band were a model of stillness for most of this show, at most swaying dreamily during the more rootsy songs. In a week of hyped-up concerts in tents and more illustrious venues, no concert was more rewarding than this beguiling display of musicianship. Even the support, from English country folk singer Johnny Flynn and his band the Sussex Wits, was excellent.
Country folk, however, doesn’t remotely capture the rich songwriting of South Carolina-native Sam Beam. His earlier material, dating back to 2002’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, was sparsely arranged, but his new album, The Shepherd’s Dog, features a much fuller sound, and he is now touring with an eight-piece band, including his sister Sarah on backing vocals and violin. Beam played much of the gig with his back to the audience, but with his huge hair and long, leonine beard, he doesn’t have to try hard to be the centre of attention. The band let the music do all the work, the general passivity of their performance in marked contrast to the liveliness of their playing, with gentle melodies often building into squalls of sound.
The Ambassador is to be turned into a library, an excellent choice for a venue that was never a perfect auditorium in the first place. But on this utterly beautiful night, when Beam’s voice and gently-plucked guitar filled the air and captivated the crowd, the round room on O’Connell Street seemed to be the most perfect venue of all.