Thursday, July 4, 2013

Iron and Wine Becomes An Orchestra at The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles

 (originally published at Radio Free Silver Lake on July 3, 2013)

I try to see Sam Beam each time he swings through town with his musical project, Iron and Wine, which can vary from a solo performer with one accompanist to a regular rock band of five or six. I was still surprised to see thirteen musicians stride on stage on Sunday night, June 23, 2013, at The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles to envelope a warm and appreciative crowd in a bona fide "love-fest" that flooded the venue with a soft glow. Thanks to Spaceland Productions for the photo above (other photos by me).

With his usual unassuming and characteristic modesty he easily seduced the crowd even before he began singing. His easy rapport with an audience always makes his shows seem more like a soiree with a group of like-minded friends, no matter the size of the venue. This was made clear again on Sunday night as the between song boisterousness of the audience would quell once the music began and one's attention would be riveted to the stage.

I've been wrapping my head around the new album, Ghost On Ghost, for the past few weeks. At first I didn't quite know what to make of the new direction he's taken into a kind of jazzy blues/lounge lizard world, until repeated listenings left a bunch of the songs stuck in my head. I began to realize that he is taking this very seriously, and the display of orchestral range exhibited at The First Unitarian left no doubt that he's made a wise choice.

With a four-piece string section and three back up singers assuming their positions stage right, the drummer and brass section emerging stage left and Sam in the center, they launched into the swooning, sashaying "The Desert Babbler" from the new album, and the crowd was seduced, right there, on the spot. The precision of the female back-up singers combined with the charismatic stage presence of the dancing brass musicians made this concert the most upbeat set I've ever seen from Mr. Beam.

Any reticence I may have felt about Ghost On Ghost was swept away as they played a range of it's songs including "Low Light Buddy Of Mine" and the soulful "Grass Widows" played with such style and precision by his small orchestra. Another advantage of hearing it live is that Sam Beam's voice has never been recorded to sound quite as powerful as it is in person, with the bonus of seeing how he never even breaks a sweat, his voice just pours out of him so naturally.

As the band took a break, Sam performed a few solo songs and took suggestions from a knowledgeable audience who surprised him with some of their choices. He was joined by his string section for a gorgeous cover of Postal Service's "Such Great Heights". He rounded out the 90 minute show with the full band, including a really special airing of "Grace For Saints and Ramblers". For the encore he came out alone again and launched into what may be my favorite of IMG_2647all his songs, the heart-wrenching "Trapeze Swinger". The episodic and compelling song that seems to go on forever, yet doesn't go on long enough.
This is the second show I've attended at The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles (left) and, while I wouldn't exactly call it a religious experience (I don't possess the proper gene for that), I would describe it as reverential. Like the Iron and Wine show at The Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever a couple of years ago, this was the perfect marriage of artist and venue.