Published on February 24th, 2014 | by Stratton Lawrence0
Review: Iron & Wine and the Secret Sisters Put Old-School Folk on Display
Iron & Wine, the Secret Sisters
Charleston Music Hall
It’s difficult not to feel like you’re the butt of a “Stuff White People Like” joke at an Iron & Wine show. Fortunately, Sam Beam manages to hold court and keep his subjects entertained, despite solo renditions of his songs that are akin to naptime-inducing nursery school lullabies. There’s no denying a sold out audience of nearly 1,000 people — clearly Beam’s music has popular appeal — but when he’s not interrupting himself mid-song with witty banter, his high warble can be soothing enough to nod off to in the Music Hall’s comfy seats.
Sunday night’s crooning started a few minutes after 8 p.m., when Muscle Shoals’ the Secret Sisters took the stage in front of the curtain. With one guitar and two microphones between them, the two girls stole the show early with their honest, soulful take on Southern, all-girl harmony, including covers by the Everly Brothers and Ray Charles. Although Laura had the hotter mic (ear-splittingly so at some points, agreed the patrons seated around us up front), sister Lydia’s growl and ethereal echoes proved the duo’s best asset.
It only took two songs of Beam’s set for my wife to ask, “Are all of his songs depressing?” and although they’re not, those who are accustomed to Iron & Wine’s intricate studio arrangements might have been disappointed (or simply bored) by Beam’s pared-down versions of his more recent compositions.
Beam’s esoteric James Joyce-esque lyrical meanderings were on full display without musical distraction, apart from the simple but impressively rhythmic accompaniment of his acoustic guitar playing.
Beam seamed to enjoy the relatively rowdy Charleston crowd, chastising those who tried to clap or yelled out ill-chosen requests, and refusing to capitulate to vocal audience members whose energy seemed prepared for the curtain behind Beam to open and reveal Calexico waiting in the wings to carry the sparse tunes into broader sonic space.
Although highlights like “Grace for Saints and Ramblers” and “Caught in the Briars” were treats, conveying the authentic energy of the songs as they were originally conceived, (and “Monkeys Uptown” included some truly impressive solo guitar work), Beam’s solo presence — even in a mid-size theater full of highly vocal fans — maintained a coffee shop intimacy. Even with the show-closing favorites “From Great Heights” (featuring the “ooing” Secret Sisters) and “Jezebel” drawing the audience from their seats, there was no semblance of high fives or mutual exchanges of energy on the way out the door. This was a docile, mellow evening, indeed.
And that’s what most of the audience came for; their motivation was to hear a visionary, creative songwriter with a beautiful, delicate delivery, and that was expertly delivered. But unless he returns with a band to fill the sound, I can’t say I’d want to sit through it again.
Photos by Jon Santiago.
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