I've seen it happen to many a musician: They move to the Austin, Texas, area because of its beauty and vitalized music scene, but the thing they really wind up falling in love with is all the cheap Mexican pot available around town. I'm not saying that's what has happened with Texas transplant Sam Beam, but the Iron & Wine founder/frontman certainly did seem to be wrapped up in a suspicious haze Wednesday night at First Avenue.
Beam had an ambitiously stacked 10-piece band with him -- and that was part of the problem. He seemed intent on making the most of the musicians, even if that meant losing the audience's attention during an extended, jazzy "Bitches Brew"-like jam in "Free Until They Cut Me Down" or a Jethro Tull-ian prog-rock meltdown in "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)." Beam gave fair warning of what was to come by opening with the eccentric, bloated "Rabbit Will Run" from the new album, "Kiss Each Other Clean." Three words that automatically mean a rock concert has gone awry: Too much flute! Even the lovely new single "Tree by the River" was tainted with a cheesy, '80s-Billy-Joel-style saxophone part.
"I hope we're not [messing] with the songs too much," Beam said toward the end of the 90-minute set, an apparent admission that things were a bit too out-there.
Kudos to him for experimenting and growing beyond his intimate folk sound. The best moments on Wednesday, however, were still the softer intimate ones: "Weary Memory" and "Jesus the Mexican Boy" mid-show, and especially "He Lays in the Reins" as the lone encore song. All of these did put the added musicians to good use, too, since name-brand backup vocalists Marketa Irglova (of Swell Season fame) and Rosie Thomas added a whole other level of beauty to them. The rest of the band (which included horn and wind players from Nomo) did have its moments, too, including a Talking Heads-funkified "House by the Sea" and especially "Glad Man Singing." The latter song started out mellow and folky and then tastefully built into a gorgeous, "Astral Weeks"-like orchestral-soul piece -- the most perfect balance between the old and new Iron & Wine. Here's hoping that balance can be found more often next time.
Click here for a Vita.mn photo gallery from the show.
Here's the set list:
Rabbit Will Run / God Made the Automobile / Evening on the Ground (Lilith's Song) / Glad Man Singing / Boy With a Coin / Walking Far From Home / Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog) / Weary Memory / Jesus the Mexican Boy / Free Until They Cut Me Down / My Lady's House / On Your Wings / Lion's Mane / House by the Sea / Love and Some Verses / Sea and the Rhythm / Tree by the River ENCORE: He Lays in the Reins