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Concert Review: Iron and Wine @ The Music Hall, Toronto - Sepember 25/07


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IRON AND WINE (with Arthur & Yu) @ THE MUSIC HALL, Toronto, Ontario: Tuesday, September 25/07

Review by David Jaimoe Ball

[blurb]

I'm not the best candidate to review an Iron and Wine concert. One of the big reasons why I bought tickets to Tuesday night's show was to hear my wedding song performed live. My wife and I danced to Iron and Wine's "Passing Afternoon" a year ago and hearing that gorgeous song done live would make a great late anniversary present. Along with "Passing Afternoon", I know only a handful of Iron and Wine songs intimately, and I'm pretty sure I couldn't pick out Sam Beam (aka Iron and Wine) if he sat in amongst his legion of look-alikes dotting the SOLD OUT Danforth Music Hall. [/blurb]Fortunately, my Iron and Wine knowledge, or lack thereof, didn't matter too much after the bearded and bushy-haired Beam announced that that they'd be "playing a lot of new songs, if that's ok with you?" Judging by the roar that followed, the crowd was pumped to hear anything from their hero, including new stuff. Incidentally, Iron and Wine's new CD, The Shepherd's Dog, was released earlier in the day, making Tuesday's gig feel like an unofficial CD release party. Everyone has a couple of artists that they've liked for years but for one reason or another, have never really gotten around to fully exploring their music. Iron and Wine fits that bill for me.

Joined by his sister Sarah on backing vocals and violin, Iron and Wine is now an eight-piece ensemble: pedal-steel guitar, two percussionists, organ, slide guitar/accordian, bass and violin/backing vocals. With this large band brings an electrified roots-rock edge and intricate instrumental diversions, a departure somewhat to Iron and Wine's stark and utterly beautiful folk-dominated past. However, none of this mattered to Beam's legions of fans filling the seats at the recently renovated Music Hall.

It took the first four songs for Beam's whispery voice and unassuming stage demeanor to emerge from behind both the distractingly low lead vocal mix and his sprawling band. Once the sound guy got it right, the crowd hung on every word; and thankfully there was a lack of the usual audience blabber throughout the night. A few sparse classics from earlier albums were dropped into the set, but true to Beam's word, most of the set was dominated by cuts from The Shepherd's Dog. It didn't matter if you came to hear Beam's trademark emotive stripped-down style or were curious about the new ambitious full-band sound, because the night was full of both. But if you took an audience poll after the show, I'm positive most fans preferred the simpler folk songs by a fair margin. You could hear a pin drop during the quiet tunes, especially during two new standouts, the eerie "Carousel" and the country tinged "Resurrection Fern".

However, Iron and Wine continually shook things up, utilizing full-band arrangements featuring dreamy instrumental passages, making for a more interesting and rounded concert experience. Two fine electrified tunes rivaled the quieter material: the mid-tempo "White Tooth Man" and the dark-layered "Wolves (Song of The Shepherd's Dog)", underscored by haunting jams with Beam adding fine lead guitar fills with his back to the audience, something he chose to repeatedly do all evening long a la Miles Davis, but without the jazz legend's disdain. After Beam and company finally left the stage after 100 minutes or so, the crowd finally got to their feet and demanded an encore. Would the encore be my wedding song? The song my wife and I waited for all evening? Nope. Beam chose to play another equally beautiful track to end the night: "Flightless Bird, American Mouth". In the end it didn't matter. Iron and Wine create so much beauty it really doesn't matter what you hear. *** 1/2 (out of 5)

Opening for Iron and Wine was the excellent cosmic country, psychedelic garage band Arthur & Yu, named after the childhood nicknames of the two co-leaders Sonya Westcott and Grant Olsen. The somewhat shy foursome put on a very impressive and well received 40 minute set. At various points the vocal interplay reminded me a lot of early June Carter and Johnny Cash, but there are definite Sweetheart of the Rodeo era Byrds, Mamas and Papas and driving Velvet Underground vibes going on too. They impressed enough of the packed house to keep the Beam fanatics sufficiently primed and ready to hear their hero. *** 1/2 (out of 5)

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I saw him in montreal and I have to say I was a tad bit disapointed. I really wanted to here more acoustic stuff but he played electric most of the night... even electrifying some of his older quiter tunes, which kinda disapointed me. And the concert T's looked like they were all made for women.

but all in all it was a good night. I have been listening to his new album for about a month so I knew most of the knew songs yet some of them didn;t come off all that well live.

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