Iron and Wine took a page from their opening band, Califone, when they recorded The Shepherd’s Dog earlier this year. Their latest album found Sam Beam rounding out his characteristic mellow sound with varied instrumentation and influences stemming from all corners of the world. Expecting a somewhat more stripped-down sound to their live set, I was surprised by the presence of eight people on stage. Among the instruments available to this menagerie of musicians were an electric stand-up bass, an accordion, xylophone, pedal steel guitar, and violin, along with the standard guitars, bass, and drumkit.
As you can imagine, the sonic possibilities with all of these instruments onstage were virtually endless, and Iron and Wine took every advantage of them. From the delicateness of “Carousel,” to the power of “Sodom, South Georgia,” the band pulled out all the stops, even managing to fit in songs with funky basslines, or Eastern, and sometimes even Australian-sounding influences. The predominant male vocals of Beam were nicely complimented by his female vocalist/violinist, so much so that at times it sounded like Beam had managed to multi-track his own voice live.
The audience was rapt throughout, despite the energy-killing chairs incongruously placed on the dance floor of the venue. I’m assuming this was at the request of the band, but nothing kills a crowd more. Even so, the audience clapped enthusiastically after each and every song. And that drunken Marine yelling for “Jezebel” the entire show? He was actually quite endearing – especially when Beam indulged him during an encore that only involved Beam, his acoustic guitar, and his voice. That powerful, vulnerable voice, which, hovering above and beyond everything else, was the main highlight of the show.