Iron & Wine subdues Dublin
Beam's Americana proves popular overseas
DUBLIN -- The fairly lengthy beard of Iron & Wine - stage name for Florida native Sam Beam - is deceiving. It adds a good 15 years to his thin, early-30-something frame, but also compliments and reinforces his nearly tangible imagery and wise-beyond-his-years lyrics.
On Friday night, Iron & Wine - composed of Beam, his sister Sara on backup vocals and friend Patrick on rhythm/slide guitar and banjo - made its first appearance in Dublin. It was met at Dublin's famous Whelan's by a capacity crowd of 250 people eager to hear the songs that have caused quite a stir on the other side of the Atlantic. (Last summer both of Iron & Wine's back-to-back shows at Club Iota in Arlington, Va. sold out.)
Iron & Wine relied almost entirely on material from 2002's "The Creek Drank the Cradle" and May 2004's release "Our Endless Numbered Days" for the hour-long, two-encore set. Both albums have been critically acclaimed for their lo-fi, down-home quality that sounds as if Beam recorded them on a four-track in his basement. Oddly enough, for the first release, he did, and lost none of the intimacy when he moved to the studio for the latter. Microphone hiss was welcomed as an accompaniment and Beam's voice sounded as if he's perched on your shoulder. Lines such as "When you pick a place / That's where I'll be" on "Someday the Waves" melted hearts frozen by the cold Dublin night.
The untimely death of friends and loved ones is a subtle theme through several Iron & Wine songs. Has their writer experienced the tragic losses he so eloquently details and do his songs double as a form of catharsis? Many of the songs sound retrospective, as if penned by a quasi-Neil Young singer-songwriter with decades of pain, happiness and everything in between behind him.
"Birds are leaving over autumn's ending / One of us will die inside these arms" on "Naked As We Came" set the mood early on in the set. Either Iron & Wine has all of that already and has aged considerably because of it (thus the beard), or he's an exceptional storyteller - a Bob Dylan-esque "song and dance man," which is what the best singer-songwriters are anyway.
Beam didn't use a plectrum the entire night. Instead he transfixed the audience with delicate finger-picking patterns and alternating bass lines or light strumming. Patrick picked up the banjo at all the right moments. Sister Sara shook her tambourine, the only percussion of the evening, and offered the same flawless soprano as on the LPs. It's doubtful, but if Iron & Wine decides to go the commercial route, it could certainly hawk for Country Time Lemonade or the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.
Dublin-native Paul O'Reilly opened the show and was heartily welcomed by a hometown crowd that was willing to overlook such gaffes as "There's a light outside the window / Where I fall down." The spotlight was trained firmly on the night's headliner though. His southern charm and beautiful melodies have certainly transcended the ocean. When the time came for an encore, Iron & Wine was peppered by requests. Beam responded, "You guys know more songs than I do"