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I bought tickets to the Iron & Wine gig at the HMV Picturehouse almost four months before the actual event, without having heard his new album and an inkling of what may have been in store. When the album came out in January I felt like it was met with extremely polarised responses- people hated it or loved it. The album left me a bit cold, I enjoyed some of the songs, but I felt like Sam Beam’s song writing had gotten a bit too exploratory. The lyrics sometimes felt forced, and the sound was... jangly. He had taken a step in the same direction as Sufjan Stevens had - a mild combination of glitchy, mpc-driven electronica and acoustic guitar.
Seeing Sam Beam with full band perform some of these songs live was a revelation into how the music had come about. I went in expecting a 1.5 hour show of acoustic melodies interspersed with some of the quieter songs of the new album, but Iron & Wine appeared on stage with seven person backing band and started playing soulful jazz funk orchestrations. The new songs were easy to recognise - they remained largely similar to the original material. However, as the band launched into the third song it took me until Sam Beam started singing to actually recognise Free Until They Cut Me Down, one of his older songs. I’m going to be honest here - initially I was a bit appalled. Nothing except for the lyrics appeared the same, everything clashed with what I had been expecting, and for the first twenty minutes of the gig I was in constant doubt.
The gig built up and up - much as the new album does - interspersed with guitar solos, trumpet and saxophone crescendos, and climaxed with Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me long drawn out repeated “become become” chant. By that time I had been turned around. I had managed to shrug of what I was expecting, and now I was attending a gig which was enjoyable - even if Sam Beam’s in between songs chat was pretty mediocre - and did have me bopping my head.
Do not attend this gig if you’re hoping for the Iron & Wine of old. It looks like the man is set on turning over a new leaf, and play some funky, finger snapping, soul along the way. The man has a magnificent beard though.