February 2, 2011

Iron and Wine - Radio City Music Hall - January 29, 2011

Judas? More like Wooed-Us.

Sam Beam, the gentle soul that brought us quiet, four-tracked songs straight from his heart (and basement), has decided to kick it up a notch.  And listeners, readers, music-lovers - we're all in for a real treat.  

Iron & Wine headlined the Radio City Music Hall on a cold Saturday in January.  In case you've never been to Radio City, it's large.  No, it's very large.  When it opened nearly 80 years ago, it was the largest indoor theater in the world (go ahead, google it) with over 6,000 seats when properly oriented.  To put things in a little perspective, the last time we saw Sam Beam (check it out), he was playing a 750 seat theater in Charlottesville, VA.  And while both theaters have a similar historic beauty, no one can deny the difference in scale.

Edie Brickell of New Bohemian fame opened the hall at eight sharp.  Incredibly polished, Edie and her band put on an entertaining set.  She was clearly excited to be playing the Hall, and it was nice to see someone with such a great career so humbled.  Their music, while not poetic, was well rehearsed and well played, and my copilot likened the act to a hybrid of Bonnie Raitt and Feist.  That's pretty good company if you ask me.

Sam came out at a few past nine, barefoot and bearded, nothing out of the ordinary here.  He brought with him a "stripped-down" band complete with two vocal accompanists (Rosie Thompson and sister Sarah), a keyman, and multi-instrumentalist "DJ Baggypants" (aka "DJ Banjoface").  I quote stripped-down, because come on, that lineup is still nearly a full ensemble sans rhythm section.  Together, they played four I&W classics and one of the new tunes, 'Half Moon'.  It was a real treat to hear the old stuff slightly rearranged with keys and a banjo/mandolin.  Moon was absolutely a highlight for me.

And then out rolls a four piece horn section and the rhythm.  "We're going to play a whole new album for you up here," Sam said, smiling slyly.  And boy did they.  It took more than a few bars to recognize 'Love and Some Verses', but when I finally placed it, I was able to sit back and enjoy a pepped-up, horn-popping new I&W song - one I had heard hundreds of times but never quite like this.

Some failed to see the brilliance, the uniqueness of the reworked tunes.  While I'm sure the gentleman who shouted "Judas!" from the rafters did so playfully, it visibly affected Sam.  He came out so affable and carefree - and now you're shouting "Judas" at me?  Even though he tried to have fun with it, Sam brought it up throughout the show.  "Judas?  Really?  You guys just like one kind of food?"  But his best line on the subject came after the next song, no doubt a one-liner he'd taken a song to think up: "You know, Judas was Jesus's FAVORITE."  Game, set, match Beam.

All-in-all, it was a great show.  Sam brought his A-game both as master of ceremony and of music; the crowd was reasonably tame; and the venue was breath-taking.  I took major points away from the sound, as the saxophones sounded like angry geese up in the top tier, and they even managed to over-power Sam's vocals.  Hey sound guy, take it from eleven to seven - that red, peak indicator is not a good thing okay?  See the scorecard for more details.

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