Iron & Wine – the Space at Westbury – June 26, 2014
When you go see Iron & Wine, you know what you’re going to get but also don’t know what you’re going to get. Of course, there are going to be great songs, lots of them, overflowing with unique lyricism, imagery and melody, and you know you’ll have Sam Beam there to sing them to you. What you don’t always know is who will be playing with him, which will set the tone and style of the show. In past years, the sound has followed as Beam has toured with horns or backup singers or a stripped-down band. On Thursday night at the Space in Westbury, Beam played what he thought was his first show on Long Island proper, backed by a steady-as-she-goes roots-rock band that might be equally comfortable backing Bob Dylan these days, and the music followed suit.
The show opened with a terrific set from the Secret Sisters, out of Alabama, their vocal harmonies resonating to almost cosmic effect, while their backing band rumbled with soulful blues rock. The voices, the music, the set—which ranged across multiple styles of rock and roll, including covers of Hank Williams and their take on an unfinished Dylan piece—and the Sisters’ Southern charm easily won over the crowd. Beam and his band opened their career-spanning headlining set with a high-energy folk-shuffle version of “Boy with a Coin.” Banjo, acoustic guitar, organ, bass and drums nicely accented Beam’s agave-nectar natural-sweetener voice. The band flipped among instruments to widen the sound, Jim Becker moving from banjo to mandolin to acoustic-wired-electric guitar; Rob Burger moving from organ to Rhodes. Songs of exquisite beauty, like “House by the Sea,” with some nice double-acoustic guitar picking, led up to some momentum-building blues rock on songs like “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven.”
And while the band nicely worked the material, the set’s highlight was at the halfway point when Beam cast aside the extra musicians, first with a gorgeous duet with Burger on “Joy,” off his most recent album, Ghost on Ghost. This was followed by an all-request group of solo songs that stole the show. The enthusiastic crowd was up for the task, asking for some A-list material. All were great, but two songs stood out: First, Iron & Wine’s made-it-his-own, pure-light-and-good version of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” which certainly took away the breath from even the most cynical curmudgeon in the room. The poetic “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” was second, Beam’s voice shocking the not silenced easily audience into a silence beautiful in its absoluteness. The remainder of the show was a cascade of hits, featuring great versions of “Woman King,” “Rabbit Will Run” and the dark, slow build-to-climax encore of “Lovers Revolution.” It was a reminder of how many great songs Beam has to choose from, but really, no surprises there. —A. Stein