Iron & Wine at the Barbican
Iron & Wine, the recording name for Sam Beam, a South Carolina professor of film turned singer-songwriter, arrives in London for the second time in a week to promote his latest album Ghost on Ghost. It’s a surprise to see an artist associated with plaintive, sparse, melodic tunes having a 14-piece back-up band, but he’s obviously decided that the loneliness of the long distance tunesmith is to be no more. On a busy stage are the string trio from Antony and the Johnsons, Bob Dylan’s bassist in amongst the sterling rhythm section, three honey-toned backing singers and a Motown-ish brass division.
The entire outfit is in action for the new material, of which The Desert Babbler and Caught in the Briars are the most impressive. The progression of sound is akin to that made by Lambchop, moving on from their low-key Americana roots to a more soulful funk-influenced vibe. It works, and it gives the material more depth, but it’s agilely balanced with the parts of the show where he plays solo, or with the string section. When alone, Beam takes requests from the crowd, including an exquisite Resurrection Fern, amiably bantering with a beguiled audience. With the strings he covers The Postal Service’s Such Great Heights (the track that made his name when used on the soundtrack of Garden State), and it’s aptly titled.
He introduces a cover of a track by English folk duo Richard and Linda Thompson, stating that “people seem to love sad songs here,” an observation that is greeted with begrudging agreement. As titles go, Withered and Died is never going to be a party piece, but it simply is the most heart-breakingly beautiful number of the evening, with Lean into the Light dedicated to his father running a close second.
Mr Beam is über-polite, consistently and subtly humourous, splendidly bearded, self-effacing, talented as hell and possessed of a voice that soothes the blues of an unexpectedly melancholy month of May. It’s too much for one individual to possess, but after nights like this, somehow we manage to forgive him.
Photos: Bartek Odias
For further information and future events visit Iron & Wine’s website here.
Watch the video for The Desert Babbler here: