November 16, 2014 – Adelphi Theatre, London.
Sunday night gigs can be hard to take if the rest of your weekend has been eventful enough. If it’s a rock outfit, you better find a stimulant to keep you going, otherwise you’ll end up as a piece of lumpy carpet for the rest of the stalls crowd. If you’re lucky you’ll have seats for the event. If you’re luckier still, it’ll be something more easy listening that evening. And if you’re as lucky as I was this past Sunday, you’ll be watching Iron and Wine…with rather good seats, I might add.
Ever since The Creek Drank The Cradle, Sam Beam (aka Iron and Wine) has had a way of stopping you in the middle of doing something – I don’t exactly remember the first time his gentle lyrics caught my attention, but I was completely sold by the first slide-guitar interlude. Despite that notorious warm campfire or cabin in the woods style intimate atmosphere that his recordings provide, when it came to live performances, I had only ever seen him in either large venues or at festivals. It was around the time he began using a full band in his performances, where it seemed appropriate to have some room to stand and sway around in. It was larger scale and slicker, giving justice to some of that 70s folk-pop sound he nailed admirably on Kiss Each Other Clean. Alas, I did yearn to re-taste that Iron and Wine solo show delicacy, which had not been on offer for a few tours. Now was my chance at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s typically thespian-dominated vicinage.
Jessica “Jesca” Hoop was an intriguing support act, walking on stage with her white Gibson electric guitar in an interesting monochromatic outfit with her coat folded into some ribbon-like design (‘I came tonight as a Christmas present’, she would later inform us). I hadn’t heard of her before but there was an admirable style in her song-crafting. A mixture of artsy showing-off and confident authenticity, she played in a notably high tuning to suit her impressive vocal capacity. For two-thirds of the performance, she had two Mancunian backup singers joining her onstage and providing complex harmonies to her arrangements. We would see some more of that later.
Listen: “Hunting My Dress” – Jesca Hoop
After I spent a stretch of time admiring the Adelphi’s art-deco ceiling, the safety curtain rose and revealed a large stage lamp on its stand, directed at the lone microphone that Sam Beam approached. Smiling gratefully at the audience, he promptly asked what we wanted to hear. Immediately requests were barked from the upper and lower regions of the seated areas and when one struck his fancy he would begin. This happened after almost every song – it was officially Iron and Wine by request, which made sense as he wasn’t there to promote new material, but just to have fun. After the applause Sam’s head would again follow the many projected demands around the room and greet each one with a considerate ‘thank-you’, even after he’d already made up his mind on what was next. It made for a pretty rare addition to his already rare one-man show.
As a result there was a nice selection of classics (“Naked As We Came,” “Cinders and Smoke“) as well as some rare gems (“Sixteen, Maybe Less“), of which he commended the audience on their knowledge. It also put him on the spot numerous times to recall lyrics and chord changes, which was nothing he couldn’t handle with a quick-witted line. He also revealed a new song titled ‘In’, a short and worthy addition to his catalogue. Later, Jessica Hoop returned to the stage to join him for some stunning duets – including one of her songs (“Hunting My Dress“) and a heartfelt delivery of “Resurrection Fern“. Among the sweet and haunting acoustic moments, Sam’s intermittent banter had brought a sense of inclusion to the evening; his jokes and quirks made it feel as intimate as a living room gig. He concluded gracefully with “Upward Over the Mountain” and a humorously mistake-riddled rendition “Biting Your Tail” as his encore before exiting to a standing ovation.
Listen: “Naked As We Came” – Iron and Wine
After nearly 15 years of Iron and Wine playing establishments of all sizes, you would imagine that this kind of thing is second nature for Sam. The thought of whether touring with the full band experience may have ‘changed’ him is not quite a Dylan goes electric moment, but still I couldn’t help but be personally excited to have witnessed the lone wolf format again after so long. And what a lovely beard that wolf has, too!