Iron & Wine, Angel Olsen
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
Saturday, June 28, 2014
The last time I saw Iron & Wine—in the spring of 2008 at UNC’s Memorial Hall—it came on the heels of the release of The Shepherd’s Dog.
At the time, that record was Sam Beam and company’s most ambitious effort after his lo-fi start, but it was the sparsest selections, like Beam’s duets with sister, Sarah, that were the highlights early that night, as Beam’s band gradually grew more bloated and settled into reggae-flavored grooves. Struggling to stay awake midway through the set, I resorted to exchanging corny Marley-meets-Beam jokes (“Iron Wine Zion” was far too easy) via text with equally disappointed friends. Others in my section simply left.
That experience was more than six years ago, but it’s a good thing I didn’t give up on Iron & Wine performances, as Saturday night’s outdoor set at the North Carolina Museum of Art was as fresh as that Chapel Hill show was tired. While a pair of intervening releases—Kiss Each Other Clean
and last year’s Ghost on Ghost
—gently pushed at the edges of Beam’s range, he’s also adapted his sleepy early material to become more dynamic in live settings, thanks in large part to the lush textures that his four-piece band added.
“Sunset Soon Forgotten” became a sprightly shuffle when paired with Beam’s fleet picking, while “Fever Dream” was graced with jazzy touches, each number nestling nicely alongside the golden pop feel borrowed from '70s singer-songwriters on Ghost
’s “Baby Center Stage” and “Grace for Saints and Ramblers.” Upon Beam’s invitation before “House By The Sea,” the crowd even rushed down to the standing room area in front of the stage to dance, which wasn’t an uncommon sight during the evening.
But while the band roared like roadhouse rock ‘n’ rollers on the coda to “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven,” Beam’s brief solo break midway through the set still served as the night's climax. With a few hundred fans sitting in front of the stage and providing a more intimate vibe, Beam was loose and personal, entertaining requests while pausing his guitar playing a couple times mid-introduction to tell a story or laugh off a misplaced capo. Perhaps it helped that this was his first area show since moving to Durham
, although Beam confessed that it was the first time he’d taken the “long commute” to Raleigh. He already seems to have some hometown pride, too, chiding a Raleigh resident in the front row. Between the banter, Beam played a handful of favorites better suited to just he and his guitar, sandwiching oldies “Naked As We Came” and “Southern Anthem” between his popular cover of “Such Great Heights” and In Good Company’s gorgeous “The Trapeze Swinger.” The latter mesmerized, with crickets’ chirps the only thing that interrupted the dramatic pauses amid lengthy verses.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for opener Angel Olsen, whose hushed, fragile vocals often competed with the chattiness of the sold-out crowd, still picknicking near sunset. The Asheville resident struggled to overcome inattentiveness despite an excellent, if placid, performance. With only her electric guitar to accompany her, Olsen’s hypnotic but uneasy playing hinted at the storminess bubbling beneath her songs’ calm exterior. “Hi-Five” was a standout, not only because it picked up the pace slightly so that it was nearly a toe-tapper, but also for its marriage of Olsen’s stark, folkie moods with a classic country twang.
Iron & Wine set list
Sunset Soon Forgotten
Low Light Buddy of Mine
House By The Sea
Big Burned Hand
Boy With A Coin
Baby Center Stage
Tree By The River
Joy (Sam Beam & Rob Burger)
Such Great Heights (Sam Beam solo)
Naked As We Came (Sam Beam solo)
Southern Anthem (Sam Beam solo)
The Trapeze Swinger (Sam Beam solo)
Caught in the Briars
Sundown (Back in the Briars)
Grace for Saints and Ramblers
Summer in Savannah
Me and Lazarus
Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
God Made The Automobile
Encore: Muddy Hymnal