Concert Review: Iron & Wine at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton

Sam Beam was in a jovial mood Friday at the Calvin Theatre, where his band Iron & Wine performed their first Northampton show since 2009.

He joked about sharing a birthday with Mick Jagger (“I don’t know if he knows,” Beam said), apologized for uttering an obscenity after he spotted a little kid down front and, when he blanked a couple of times on the lyrics, remarked that he simply has too many. It all came as part of a 90-minute performance that ranged through Iron & Wine’s catalog, from the spare, solo-acoustic early material to the lusher full-band arrangements from more recent albums, including last year’s “Kiss Each Other Clean.”

Beam opened solo with a low-key version of “The Trapeze Swinger,” plucking at an acoustic guitar and singing in soft, whispering tones. A mandolin player and accordionist joined him for “Naked As We Came,” and by “Tree by the River” a few songs in, bass, drums and a horn player helped flesh out a loosely spooled folk-rock sound shot through with elements of ’70s pop.

The band added subtle, lilting ornamentation to “Jesus the Mexican Boy,” and teased its way through the stuttering verses of “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven” before exploding into the outro. Beam reprised a folk-rock version of “The Long Black Veil” that he had performed as part of an 80th-birthday tribute to Johnny Cash, and it sounded downright reverential when the instruments dropped out on the chorus to leave layers of beautiful vocal harmony.

Iron & Wine ended its main set with the solid, rhythmic “Boy With a Coin,” and Beam returned by himself to play the riveting “Sodom, South Georgia,” for an encore.

Brooklyn’s Thieving Irons opened with a set of tuneful, atmospheric songs that included the hypnotic “Poison,” from their recent album “Behold, This Dreamer!”

— Eric R. Danton

  4 comments for “Concert Review: Iron & Wine at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton

  1. Fronz
    July 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Saw Iron and Wine yesterday at Newport Folk Festival. The set was great and really rocked in spots. The band is killer even though a few pieces smaller than the last time I saw them. I never thought I would see the day when my ears were blown out by Iron and Wine. But it happened in a good way yesterday. Should be a good week with a couple Wilco shows coming up.

    • Listen, Dammit
      July 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      Good to hear from you, Fronz!

  2. August 2, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Wow, I had a totally different experience. I went to the Iron & Wine show at the Calvin so full of anticipation. And the moments when Sam was onstage alone did not disappoint. But the addition of a saxophone, flute, and/or clarinet where there should have been background vocals was jarring at best—and flat-out ugly at worst. The sound was bizarre, Sam’s guitar and vocals were drowned out at times by the cacophony produced by the sax/keyboard/banjo players. It’s like they were all competing with one another instead of playing together. I left totally disappointed, though Sam’s affable, sweet stage presence definitely softened the blow of a concert that just didn’t work for me.

    I went back the next night for The Head and the Heart – amazing. So full of energy and the sound was right-on. I’m glad I went back to get the awesome show experience I’d been hoping for the night before.

    • Listen, Dammit
      August 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm

      Sorry to hear it was a letdown, but glad Saturday’s show made up for it!

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