A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Iron & Wine, The Roundhouse, 08/03/11

If you read an article on Iron & Wine these days it is more than likely that at some point it will remark on the progression in sound from the hushed, warm, lo-fi acoustic folk of the earlier albums to the expanded, fuller ‘alternative rock’ sound of the later albums. Personally I am a fan of all of his albums and generally find that there is something quite pleasing about witnessing a band develop their sound from album to album whilst retaining certain traits (Mercury Rev’s gradual career transformation is another notable example that comes to mind). Last night at the Roundhouse Sam Beam and his band played a set comprising material from all periods of his career but in the end I found it quite a disappointing show in many respects.

After arriving on stage Beam explained to the audience that he had been suffering from a cold and urged everyone ‘to get through this together’, possibly not the most promising beginning to a show. They started with ‘Boy With A Coin’ from 2007’s ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’ album. Shortly after they played ‘Wolves (Song Of The Shepherd’s Dog)’, the first of several re-worked tracks that we would hear throughout the evening, this particular version featuring a slightly puzzling extended mid-song instrumental jam.

It was followed by more loose re-workings of older material, ‘Lion’s Mane’ and ‘Cinder And Smoke’ both sounding quite airy and underwhelming. The emotion and poignancy of the recorded versions was sadly absent. It was a trend that reoccurred throughout the show. There seemed to be a lot of ‘space’ between the sound of each instrument, with the constituent parts of the band rarely merging together cohesively. This struck me as especially strange given the size of the backing band – 7 players in total including two drummers. For me, the attempts at casting jazzy, soulful textures on to the older songs wasn’t a particularly successful move…

The five tracks played from new album ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’ sounded a lot better. ‘Tree By The River’, arguably the best track on the new album, injected some much needed positivity to the gig, the sunny harmonies sounding just as good live as on record. They also played ‘Walking Far From Home’, ‘Me And Lazarus’, ‘Big Burned Hand’ and finished the main set with the slow-burning ‘Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me’.

‘House By The Sea’ appeared late in the set, borrowing some mildly-Afrobeat drumming and featuring some slightly jarring saxophone solos. ‘Peace Beneath The City’ fared slightly better – the noisy, not-quite-jazz outbursts sitting alongside quiet passages and half-whispered vocals.

The highlights of the show were when Beam was left to the fore with his acoustic guitar and the band took a backseat. ‘Swans And The Swimming’ and ‘He Lays In The Reins’ provided some (all too rare) moments of handcrafted beauty. One final such moment arrived in the encore with the tender ‘Naked As We Came’. I had been hoping to hear ‘Carousel’ (just one of several Iron & Wine songs containing beautiful, richly allegorical lyrics) but this didn’t materialise. I think I would have enjoyed his solo show at Union Chapel last year much more.

I don’t think the big venue particularly helped and judging by the regular apologies offered to the audience you could infer that Beams knew this wasn’t one of his greatest gigs. His voice may not have been at its strongest but the alternative arrangements were a source of far greater weakness in my opinion.

So, very much a hit and miss show (a view also reflected by several comments on Twitter). My next visit to the Roundhouse should (hopefully) be a lot different – Mercury Rev playing the exquisite ‘Deserters Songs’ in its entirety…