“I don’t really have a set list…” Sam Beam, the singer-songwriter behind Iron & Wine, opened his solo show at the Culture Room last night with these seven words, which, for his die-hard fans, are like golden honey to starving bees. With every pause in the music, the floodgates of requests opened, and Beam was gracious enough to comment on just about all of them, and to play as many as he could over a 90-minute duration. Intimate and interactive from the first second, the sold-out show was like a quiet campfire singalong, albeit one that was so hot (at least in the back of the room) that it felt like the fire was around us, and not the other way around.
Iron & Wine’s opening act was Jesca Hoop, the Mormon-raised daughter of a musical family who has become something of a cult figure while snagging touring gigs with Peter Gabriel and the Eels. I walked in late to her set, and the dance floor was too packed to even approach it, but suffice it to say that she played wispy, willowy acoustic songs in the manner of Vashti Bunyan—ethereal tunes seemingly tailored to sprites and naiads as they frolic in meadows and streams. The crowd seemed to love it and was hanging on her every word.
Then Beam came out for his first bona fide solo tour in some time. When he was supporting his first couple of indie-folk records, Iron & Wine was a solo project, but his evolution as an artist has incorporated more instrumental color and textures ranging from progressive rock to jazz and R&B on his more recent releases. Last night’s show presented, for Beam’s early adopters, a flashback to his incipient tours in 2003 and 2004, with their occasional mistakes (yeah, he fumbled through a couple of requests) and the directness of his beautiful words communicated through only voice and guitar. The clarity of his poetry shone through last night, especially on selections like the largely a cappella “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” with its imaginative metaphors; his Postal Service cover “Such Great Heights,” which took that synthpop nugget in an achingly beautiful direction; and “Southern Anthem,” whose original sleepy hymnal was reimagined with greater gravitas.
His only song from a forthcoming album, “Waves of Galveston,” enraptured the crowd as much as the familiar material, and his unreleased song “When a Stranger Laid Beside Me” was certainly a high point of his set, a lovely folk number that seemed to wander in from “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It was the sort of unsung treasure that never should have remained sequestered in B-side purgatory.
Though he claimed to be battling a cold, Beam’s spirits couldn’t be higher, frequently complementing the polite crowd and commenting, after opening song “Lion’s Mane,” that “I wrote that tune not far from here.” (Beam was a teacher at UM when he wrote his first album, “The Creek Drank the Cradle.”) He brought a lot of humor to his banter, too; entertaining us during the non-solo solo of “The Woman King,” he said, “Imagine a bird making love with a whale, their love cries translated in marshmallows.”
While the sound was excellent, the Culture Room was a surprising choice for an Iron & Wine solo tour, and not only because of the oppressive heat. The last time he played South Florida, he packed the Fillmore in Miami Beach, and it was obvious that he needed a bigger room to accommodate his swell of fans. Preferably one like the Parker Playhouse: A show like this should have been best enjoyed in a theater, with seats and, it goes without saying, stronger air conditioning.
- Lion’s Mane
- The Woman King
- When a Stranger Laid Beside Me
- Southern Anthem
- Fever Dream
- Rabbit Will Run
- Such Great Heights
- Big Burned Hand
10. Bird Stealing Bread
11. Peace Beneath the City
12. Waves of Galveston
13. Low Light Buddy of Mine
14. Jesus the Mexican Boy
15. Each Coming Night
16. He Lays in the Reins
17. God Made the Automobile
18. Grace for Saints and Ramblers
19. Boy With a Coin
20. (Jesca Hoop song)
21. Flightless Bird, American Mouth
22. Biting Your Tail