Live Review

Iron & Wine, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago

Beam leaves the stage to the sound of thousands cheering.

Before Iron and Wine even take the stage at the Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheatre in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the indications of the show are obvious. The group is playing for a free concert series that occurs every Monday of the summer months, and so naturally a large crowd is expected. Yet the number of people exceed expectations – thousands flock in the unusually hot weather to see Sam Beam’s outfit, many getting to the park around noon to ensure a place on the front of the lawn.

Once Beam and his group – which includes Marketa Irglova of the Swell Season – come on stage, the sun is finally beginning to lower and the hot and excited crowd cheer the large ensemble. The set list is taken predominantly from Iron & Wine’s newest album, ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’. Yet whether it’s the large crowd, the absence of proximity to the stage, the sweltering heat, or the relative unfamiliarity of the material, it seems like Beam and his group take a couple of songs to warm up. ‘Walking Far From Home,’ ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’’s first track, is around when the audience’s vibe becomes palpably more excited.

The real turning point comes immediately afterward, when the group perform ‘Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)’ off of ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’. The most intriguing and striking aspect of seeing Iron and Wine live is how dramatically the live versions of songs differ from the recorded versions. ‘Wolves’ is perhaps the most shocking instance of a song receiving a new arrangement. For the verse, Beam’s vocals drift upon bass and drums, after which an acapella harmonisation gives way to an ambient instrumental landscape. Then the drums kick in, and once the entire band add to the groove a climactic tenor saxophone solo comes in. Suddenly Beam enters alone with the familiar verse riff. The whole song lasts nearly ten minutes.

From there, the set retains its momentum, taking songs mostly from ‘Kiss’ and ‘Shepherd’s Dog’. The live version of ‘Boy with a Coin’ is particularly intriguing, as Beam withholds the familiar guitar riff for a tantalisingly long time, choosing instead to sing an altered verse melody over more spacious instrumentals so that the riff’s arrival was both exciting and relieving. The first set closes with ‘Tree By the River,’ whose beautiful relative simplicity seems celebratory and inspired the ever-growing number of dancers rising up and rushing forth from all facets of the audience.

The greatest moment of the evening is delivered as the encore. Beam walks out alone, puts on his guitar, and begins singing ‘Flightless Bird, American Mouth’ without accompaniment. His voice fills the large outdoor venue and moves the swaying crowd. After the first chorus he acts as if he’s going to come in on his guitar, but decides against it and delivers the entire song acapella. Beam’s sweet, resonating voice is powerful enough to transfix the audience, and he leaves the stage to the sound of thousands cheering.

Tags: Features

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