Iron & Wine chart a new course at the House of Blues

A review of Iron & Wine at the House of Blues on April 19, 2011

, Contributing Writer

Led by mastermind Sam Beam, Iron & Wine hit Boston on Tuesday for a sold out show at the House of Blues in support of their latest album, Kiss Each Other Clean. The show proved that Beam and company are continue to chart a new course with their sound and are not afraid to take risks by changing things up on stage.

Back in the mid 2000s, before twitter and the i-Phone and when Facebook was predominately a social network for college students, the sensitive indie guy ruled. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie and The Shins were becoming the first crossover mainstream successes and movies like Zach Braff’s “Garden State” were cult favorites. That movie gained popularity from its soundtrack, chalked full of that mid-tempo indie-pop from bands like Coldplay, The Shins, and Zero 7. But no song spoke as fully to the time as the relatively unknown Iron and Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights”. Transformed from the glitchy, electronic version Postal Service wrote, the soundtrack version, simply featuring Beam strumming and whispering plaintively became an anthem for the times and helped launch Beam’s bedroom project to greater heights of its own.

Cut to the present, and things have changed, perhaps none more so than the state of Beam’s band. Iron and Wine took to the stage at the House of Blues as a full fledged 10-piece band, complete with a full horn section. From the opening bars of their 2007 single, “Boy with a Coin”, Beam’s 70s-AM mimicking band showed their chops. Beam, dressed to the nines in a black suit with his signature full beard looking relatively groomed, wasted little time warming up, choosing to belt out most songs in full voice. On “God Made the Automobile”, a song whose studio version is spare and feathery, he floated in and out of the melody, often opting to accentuate certain words and croon in his upper register instead.

Throughout the night, the band not only showcased their percussive, more fleshed out new material, but also the radically altered arraignment of older songs. As Beam noted amid laughter mid way through the set, “you guys probably noticed we like to mess around with the songs”. “Free until They Cut Me Down”, was transformed from a backwoods folk tune, to a 10-minute sprawling, free jazz workout, and “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)” featured an extended keyboard interlude that would not have sounded out of place on a Pink Floyd album. This approach worked well enough on these songs, especially the ones off of Woman King and The Shepherd’s Dog, albums that were already flirting with a more complex sound. The two Creek Drank the Cradle tunes, however, sounded like exercises in genre hopping, with the full band’s take on “Weary Memory” sounding almost unrecognizable from its roots as a lo-fi bedroom folk song.

With the new band formation, Beam and company can open things up and their greatest weapon is the newly found ability to groove. On “My Lady’s House”, the band pumped through a chugging R&B not far from something the Rolling Stones circa Exile on Main St. and featured a positively infectious and slinking sax hook. New songs like “Big Burned Hand” only became more groove-based in the hands of the band live and the gospel-tinged “Walking Far from Home” became more percussive while retaining its building grandeur.

Beam brought things back full circle with a performance of the gentle “Naked as We Came”, as the only song in the encore, which also nicely connected with Providence’s own the Low Anthem’s stripped down harmony-heavy opening set. It was a nice touch to end the evening and keep longtime fans appeased, but certainly the hour and half that preceded it showed a band ready and willing to be whatever it wants.

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