View more photos in Timothy Norris' slideshow, "Iron and Wine, Laura Marling @ The Wiltern."
What: Iron and Wine
Where: The Wiltern
Last night Iron and Wine took the stage for another sold out show at the Wiltern. Within its hallowed halls people gathered to drink and flirt and talk about their days, but what they were really there to see was a man baring his soul on stage. The one man project of Sam Beam that is Iron and Wine has grown from a man and his guitar into something much bigger, but the center of the band remains the same. Like our ancient forbears before us, we love to watch a man reveal his stories on stage.
With his latest album Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam has decided to test the boundaries of what Iron and Wine means as a musical project, which is exciting. However, what got him to this point, what brought all of these people to see him is a combination of his lovely voice, beautiful melodies, but most of all his eloquent storytelling. (Oh, and a good portion of luck thrown in too.) People will not fill the Wiltern for just a man and his guitar, they need something to touch their hearts and make them feel alive.
If Beam had any doubts whether he could fulfill these requirements, they should have been erased the second he stood on stage. Raucous cheers greeted the bearded musician who looked every inch like the former film professor his is, in a soft brown coat and an unabashed smile. Joining him on stage were two backup singers, a keyboardist, and a man who played everything with strings including the guitar, the mandolin, the banjo, and the fiddle.
Half of the show was watching Beam answer hecklers in a relaxed, saintly fashion. He praised the people in the balcony for not being afraid of heights. When he asked us if we'd been there last night, one snarky member of the audience yelled out that he'd better do a better job, which Beam just smiled at and reassured him that he'd try.
When people shouted out names of songs he patiently grinned and said things like "I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, just yet." Even hoots and hollers got a jovial, "That sounds like dinosaurs and shit. What is that noise?" It was quite impressive. By the end of the second song, we all wanted to buy him a beer and hang out on his porch.
Beam began his set with a number of older songs with this nearly acoustic set up. The audience leaned against each other and let the poetry wash over them, pondering the meanings of the lyrics. At an Iron and Wine show you make a choice early on. You can either pay attention to your date or to the music, but certainly not both. (At least, my piddling brain cannot handle both.) With lyrics like this, "When the arrogant goddess of love came to steal my shoes/She had a white-hot pistol and a no name hard tattoo/Saying one's to give /And one's to take away," from "Big Burning Hand," it's very hard to concentrate on anything except the story he's telling.
A third of the way through the show, after the particularly hypnotizing "Teeth In The Grass" it was clear that the audience had begun to flag. There were a number of people sitting on the floor with their heads resting on the back of the tiered walls. (Sidenote: if you're going to sit down at the Wiltern, please do not wear all black. I saw one young woman face plant into the carpet after tripping over someone's legs.)
Sensing he was losing us, Beam brought forth reinforcements in the form of a horn section, bass and drums. Awakening us from our half sleep, Beam shook the crowd with a number of tunes off his new album beginning with a rousing version of "Tree By The River." What began as the usual quiet folk set turned into a band that cooked.
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This was not the same old Iron and Wine. This was something brand new. Something you could dance to. The horn section breathed new life into old favorites like "Boy With a Coin" and "Cinder and Smoke." It sounded almost as if Beam had decided to do a cover his own material, and why not? He must be sick to death of the old arrangements. Purists might have been annoyed, but in general the crowd seemed to embrace this new direction.
Closing the show, Sam Beam took the stage by himself. No frills, no nonsense, just a man and his acoustic guitar. The crowd got so quiet that you could hear the bartenders cleaning up in the back. The encore consisted of just one song, "The Trapeze Swinger." In a warm husky voice Beam sang "Please remember me" and in our rapt silence we reassured him that we would.