Iron & Wine Comes Full Circle
Beam also hosts Sorcerer at the Paramount tonight!
By Doug Freeman,
11:55AM, Mon. Jul. 16, 2018
Ten years ago, Sam Beam lived in Dripping Springs. Conceived here, Iron & Wine’s The Shepherd’s Dog (2007) grew its transplant beyond hushed, poetic folkie into a world music-leaning experimentalist. Beam also began his annual tradition of summer benefit shows at the Paramount Theatre in support of the Midwives Alliance of North America.
All these years later, the fundraiser’s developed its own unique flavor even after Beam and his family moved back east. The show maintains something of a grab-bag approach in that one never knows what configuration of Iron & Wine they’ll get – solo acoustic or full-blown band. In all cases, Beam banters playfully with the audience and songs are reworked to fit the mood.
Saturday’s performance raised proceeds for the Midwives Alliance as well as Mercy in Action and locals Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, which supports low income and women of color in the community. A packed Paramount filled with supporters of the organizations as much as Iron & Wine fans, a demographic that now securely overlaps after a decade of commingling.
Austin’s Molly Burch opened with dream pop off last year’s stellar debut Please Be Mine. The quintet, which included local rhythm section standouts Danny Reisch and Jason Chronis, lightly swayed Fifties-inspired nuggets behind the singer’s evocative, powerful vocals. The songs drifted in a soft haze that worked between Mazzy Star and Marianne Faithfull. Burch also offered a couple new tunes that expand her stylistic range.
That’s an evolution Beam is well-acquainted with, the singer-songwriter having successful broken from the mold of contemplative folk that defined his early millennium efforts. His 18-song, 90-minute set felt like a full-circle return to those roots as the stage remained sparse behind Beam, his acoustic guitar, and only jazz pianist Rob Burger for accompaniment.
The program synched naturally to Iron & Wine’s most recent direction of softer touches on last year’s Beast Epic. Beam leaned heavily into the new album with “Summer Clouds,” “Song in Stone,” and “Right for Sky,” plus the especially impressive “Thomas County Law” and “Call It Dreaming.” Burger’s piano gave it all a jazzy, jamming vibe, loose and evocative with a Bert Jansch folk flare as Beam worked across his catalog.
“As you know if you’ve been coming to this for 10 years, shit can get weird,” offered Beam a few songs in after laughing off a flub of the final lines to “Jesus the Mexican Boy.” “It always seems like such a good idea to write all these words.”
The informal aura of the event only compounded the constant requests shouted by the crowd.
“Y’all have a lot of opinions,” he joked. “Maybe you should form a committee, get organized.”
After Burger exiting mid-set, Beam worked further back into his songbook with “Naked as We Came” from 2004’s sophomore LP Our Endless Numbered Days, and his fantastically reworked Postal Service cover of “Such Great Heights.” Other deep cuts included “Muddy Hymnal” from debut The Creek Drank the Cradle and “Fever Dream.” Beam also noted that he’s working to reunite for another album with Calexico sometime in the next year.
The heavy banter left a race at the end through dark and bluesy “Arms of the Thief” and the closing swell of “About a Bruise.” That only left time for only a quick, single song encore of “The Desert Babbler.” The uniqueness of the evening prevailed in Beam’s informal style, welcoming back to Austin a familiar and joyous event.