Now I know we’re a little late with this review, but heck, we’ve been so busy somehow this one slipped through the net…
WORDS: ALICE RALPH
Admittedly upon walking into Camden’s majestic Roundhouse there’s a mixed reception upon seeing a full band set-up on the stage awaiting Iron & Wine’s performance; electric guitars, drumkits…
The fans around us tut and murmur to each-other, after all, Sam Beam (aka. Iron & Wine) has a dedicated and enthusiastic fan-base and this sold-out gig is packed to the rafters - literally – with those who were originally converted by his gentle soothing acoustic sound through his earlier albums such as Our Endless Numbered Days – where the most ‘extreme’ moments were the introduction of a banjo or perhaps some stripped-back percussion.
Yet here we are, and there’s a brass section on stage… Needless to say, this isn’t exactly the Iron & Wine we would have expected a few years ago. Beam’s more recent offerings have progressively split his fan-base with many gushing over the sound of his new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, whilst other purists wish he’d ‘stick to what he does best’ and return to the lo-fi hushed bedroom recording of his earlier material.
The support act, Daniel Martin Moore gives a modest and endearing performance, playing a set of haunting Appalachian and gospel-tinged songs, including a beautiful rendition of Jean Ritchie’s traditional folk classic ‘Now Is The Cool Of The Day’. The audience are initially respectful and pin-drop silent as his shuffling mountain-music fills the 3,000-strong venue, but eventually the crowd descend into typical support-act-chatter. It’s a shame; this is probably the nearest they will get to Sam Beam’s early haunting breathy folk for most of the evening.
Iron & Wine take the stage and set the mood with a loud stomping version of ‘Boy With A Coin’, followed by the dark and menacing ‘Summer in Savannah’. The 7-piece band are tight; amongst them an impressive – and sometimes show-stealing – jazz saxophonist, and adorable backing-singer Rosie Thomas. Her almost-sickly-sweet pop voice is the perfect contrast to Beam’s quiet muttered tones- he apologises and explains that he is suffering from a cold, but honestly it’s hard to tell. Between songs his banter is disarmingly witty and charming; Beam is undeniably likeable.
But he is also a changed man; even the back-catalogue has been given a full band facelift. ‘Love And Some Verses’ becomes an uplifting layered pop song, and the bluesy ‘Free Until They Cut Me Down’ is sped up to become a pounding, danceable racket. Since Iron & Wine performed a mere 7 months ago at End Of The Road Festival 2010 the same songs have undergone a complete transformation from intimate and lulling to rapturous indie-rock.
Some of the newer material is even more unexpected, verging at times towards Paul Simon-esque funky jazz with subtle afropop rhythms. This seems to be what splits the fan-base most. Mid-show the band descend into a 10 minute long jam; it all turns worryingly avant-garde and we get momentary flash-backs of an improvised Pere Ubu concert that we once attended. Thankfully however the show is quickly rescued by the upliftingly harmonious ‘Tree By The River’- the avant-garde jamming is entirely forgiven.
Ultimately the new song-writing is just as beautiful, as any of the older material – it’s just presentation that’s radically evolved. At heart, the songs haven’t lost anything.
It isn’t until the encore that anybody in the audience who may feel a little disappointed is finally treated to what they had hoped for. ‘Naked As We Came’ (according to Last.fm, the band’s most popular track) is the exquisite and heartbreaking finale; hushed, acoustic and the perfect ending to what has been an eclectic rollercoaster of a show. There seems to be a lot more converts to the new sound of Iron & Wine in the audience tonight, but equally I get the impression that it will take a little longer for the entire fan-base to be won over…