On a forgotten and cold January evening back in 2008 after a long day at work I took two trains from mein Zuhause in Düsseldorf through Köln HbF to Koln-Nippes. The destination was the Kulturkirche Köln and an Iron and Wine performance. The fact that I almost fell asleep standing up was not entirely up to Sam Beam’s lullaby-ish crooning vocals slathered atop soothing drifting melodies. As I mentioned it was a long day at the office and the venue was manically centrally heated (which was unusual for an ex-church). The commute was a killer too.
After writing all that out I now realise that I actually saw Iron and Wine along with Calexico in Krefeld (on the back of their collab album In The Reins) which is a little northwest of Düsseldorf back in 2006. From what I remember I had a sick stomach. So, man, I have not had a lot of luck with watching Iron and Wine.
So I was happy to test out my stamina and sickness levels now in 2018 in Singapore after a long day at work to see Iron and Wine again. Ten years later. At least there would be air-con to keep me sitting up-right. But sitting is more conducive to sleeping so I was worried.
Before getting into the concert allow me to….allow myself…a minute to dissect why I like Iron and Wine. I have no clue how I got into them. Their first release The Creek Drank the Candle in 2002 was followed up in 2004 by Our Endless Numbered Days. I guess Iron and Wine just clicked with me on an emotional level; most of the songs are melancholic and soothing. I think I needed that type of music in my listening repertoire. Songs like Sodom, South Georgia, Bird Stealing Bread, and Love and Some Verses still stand out to me as meaningful over 16 years later. I’ve lost track somewhat of Iron and Wine’s offerings from 2009 or so on (the last album I remember delving into was 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog and then I just lost track) until 2017’s Beast Epic but I’ve put in some listening time recently to get back into the Iron and Wine listening mood. There is a mood involved. It’s not work-out music.
So to the concert then. The last time I was in the Capitol Theatre was to watch The Force Awakens. It’s an historic theatre which dates back to 1930 or so and has been renovated numerous times with the last face-lift taking place only a few years ago. There are no food or drinks available once past the ticket collectors. The sound seemed to be very good. The seating is quite flat so you end up craning your neck around whoever sits in front of you.
Iron and Wine came on stage with a subtle musical nod. Starting off with the meandering Trapeze Swinger the scene is set for the rest of the night. Sam Beam’s vocals are like polished wood. Not mahogany or something heavy; more like willow or ash. Yeah, that’s it. His vocals carry each song to places where they wouldn’t go without him. He is a great talent and it was a pleasure to hear him perform.
But wait. I had a problem with the performance.
It’s just that every song is warped into new and weird melodies and in different keys to the studio albums. I love live music and I appreciate artistic expression but I’ve never witnessed any artist radically change the melody so much as Iron and Wine. Bird Stealing Bread, which is one of my favourite songs, lost it’s sweet chorus line which brings together the song beautifully. The live version just aimlessly went along with no central hook. Does Fever Dream really need to plod along any slower? It’s one of Iron and Wine’s slowest songs on track and the live version just stretches it out and again the melody gets warped into something unrecognisable. Call me old fashioned but I want a live version of the album song. Sure, tweak it a bit but don’t make it a mutant.
Anyway, that’s my gripe but I did enjoy the night. Musically it was very polished and Sam Beam’s voice is something to behold live (even if it’s a twisted version of the album songs!).
I will leave you with two versions of Bird Stealing Bread and you can decide which one works better.