Iron and Wine preview evolving sound at Fillmore, Miami Beach

November 22, 2010

“Biting Your Tail” was just one of several new songs Iron and Wine debuted the other night at the Miami Beach Fillmore. I did not take any pictures, and only ventured among the crowd for the one-song encore that was “Biting Your Tail” to make the above video. My knee had swollen up due to an injury from earlier in life and standing up at too many live shows recently has taken its toll. I decided to sit through this one, right next to the sound board. That meant I could barely see frontman Sam Beam between a pair of heads of one couple when they weren’t snuggling. However, though I could not take videos, someone else captured practically the entire show (you’ll seem them below, plus a detailed set list).

First, some perspective: I’ve seen Iron and Wine live five times now, and each time Sam Beam has offered something distinctly different. Three of those times I saw him were during his unknown phase in Miami, back in 2002.  I first heard him at the illustrious Churchill’s Hideaway in the Little Haiti neighborhood of North Miami (during this Fillmore show the chatty Beam compared Churchill’s to the bar in Star Wars [see the beginning of the “Trapeze Swinger” video below]). It was just him on electric guitar and another local and then more famous musician Rene Barge on drums. The sounds they produced fit well in the post-rock vein of Tortoise and the like, and gave nary a hint of the folksy rock Beam would later achieve notoriety for.

I would then see him at a low-key private showcase for what would soon become his record label, Sub Pop Records. He brought his sister Sarah Beam to sing with him while he played acoustic guitar. Under pressure of the CEO’s attendance, which also included Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, who wanted Sam to open up for his band Ugly Cassanova on an up-coming tour, Beam would flub his songs, as he tried to play his complex lines on his guitar. A few weeks later, after the CD the Creek Drank the Cradle had been pressed by Sub Pop, Beam played a show at a now defunct restaurant in Miami’s then up-and-coming Design District. It was just him and his guitar with mostly some students from the college where he taught film in attendance. But, man, did he play his heart out. His fingers danced on the strings of the guitar, which would spill forth some of the most achingly beautiful lines an acoustic guitar could produce, as he sang his hushed colorful words.*

The first time I saw him as a star on the indie rock scene, was at Revolution Live, in Fort Lauderdale, back in April of 2008. This was during his tour for the Shepherd’s Dog. It was the beginning of Beam’s more band-oriented work. His re-workings of older songs at that performance showcased his growing turn from the folksy man-and-his-acoustic-guitar. See this version of “Upward Over the Mountain” I recorded that night, which breaks off to a full-on jam halfway through:

The show last week, seemed to have captured Beam’s evolution over time in one comprehensive set. He started the show alone and played his first song of the night practically a capella. He would sporadically, almost unnoticeably strum his acoustic as he sang “Flightless Bird, American Mouth.” I never heard the venue more hushed, as the audience paid intense attention to his every word. Though I was barely able to make any videos, someone else did, from right up front. Here is “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” from FnCatalinaWineMixer’s view:

Beam would clearly hit his guitar for the next two numbers, however, but the audience continued in their hushed reverence. Guess what? FnCatalinaWineMixer caught those two, as well:

The final video captures just how chatty Beam was that night. It also shows how supportive the audience was toward Beam– cheering him on despite the “You Suck” curtain** and then acting as hushed as can be during the songs. Clearly the area’s serious Iron and Wine fans had shown up. It was nice compared to having all the yappers heard throughout most of that 2008 video I made, at Revolution.

For the next song, a selection for the Shepherd’s Dog, he of course brought out a few of his band members to accompany him:

He would finally offer a preview of his new repertoire with “Half Moon”:

“Half Moon” offered the most distinguishing turn in the music with some doo-wopping backing vocals. Still, the atmosphere was there from Beam’s colorful lyrics and the rambling of a banjo, underneath Beam’s punctuating guitar strumming. Then it was on to a clear classic, “Naked as We Came,” though it featured the same, if not too similar backing vocals as “Half Moon”:

Another older tune followed, when two drummers were added to the line-up:

The first song missing from the show, and apparently caught by no one on YouTube, was the obscure “Morning.” That was then followed by “Carousel,” another one of the night’s ultra-hushed numbers. The video below starts a little after the song begins (Maybe FnCatalinaWineMixer’s trigger finger had begun to tire with all the videos recorded so far).

OK, I’ll admit, I too am getting tired with recounting the show. It was good, but nothing mind-blowing. Beam is clearly getting more band-oriented. But is to the benefit of his craft or its detriment?

Clearly what made him a breakout artist back in 2002/03 was the atmospheric, acoustic-based bedroom recordings that became the Creek Drank the Cradle. Some of the stuff he debuted last night had this weird augmentation of synths and perky backing vox (see the “Naked as We Came” and  “Half Moon” videos above). What does this portend for next year’s upcoming Kiss Each Other Clean, which will get distributed by no less than Warner Bros. Records in the US (4AD will do the honors internationally… yes, the Sub Pop relationship is over)? Well, if the new songs featured in this post is not hint enough, Iron and Wine has offered this teaser video, which captures some dreamy layers of singing and instrumentation unheard of on prior releases:

As for the rest of the show last week, it continued with these videos, in this order– with horns, too! (thanks again to FnCatalinaWineMixer for the videos):

(“Monkeys Uptown” missing)

(“Summer in Savannah” missing)

(“Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)” missing)

.. and then was the encore song that tops this post.

*These early 2002 memories have already been well-documented in an earlier post.

**That was how Beam referred to the curtain that was drawn on all the upper level seats and the bottom half of the lower level. Still that was not as weakly attended a show as Wolf Parade, earlier this month.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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