Prolific acoustic singer/songwriter, Sam Beam, lended his docile tones to the ears of New Orleans and the Joy Theater on Saturday night. Beam is from South Carolina and has been making music as Iron & Wine since 2002. He now has six studio albums, with his newest, Beast Epic, being the totem for the current tour. It was released in August of this year and has been very well-received by critics who praise the fact that Sam is taking a step back from the grandiose instrumentation of his preceding albums. Beast Epic is a return to the simple, yet sincere recordings of Iron & Wine’s earliest work.
Sam hit the Joy Theater stage at about 10pm. By this point, there were already patrons stumbling about, spilling wine and not enough iron. Surprisingly, however, Sam was wholeheartedly impressed with New Orleans fans’ ability to control themselves and keep quiet. “I did not expect New Orleans to be the quietest crowd of the tour. You’re so well-behaved! I’m so proud of you!” he said, glass of red wine in hand. He was incredibly down-to-Earth for a guy who’s beard gives an impression of seasoned stoicism, dignity and wisdom. It was like hanging out with your cool uncle or older cousin after Thanksgiving dinner.
The evening’s music was just as intimate as Sam’s stage presence. He played with a drummer, cellist, keyboard player, and an upright bassist. The setlist was tailored for everyone, carrying songs from all throughout his career, including new material and songs that have been released only as singles such as “The Trapeze Swinger” and “Call Your Boys.” Iron & Wine’s music is totally unique for such a stripped-down genre. Despite all the acoustic folk singers out there, Sam separates himself with his distinct, whisper-like vocals and delicately plucked chord progressions in alternate tunings. The result is almost Eastern or foreign in style, but it successfully captures a wide range of tastes.
The audience, even though notably well-mannered, twirled and sang along with their favorite oldies, and absorbed the magic of the new songs from Beast Epic. Sam’s band took a break in the middle of the set so he could play some songs alone, then returned for “Muddy Hymnal” from Iron & Wine’s first album, The Creek Drank the Cradle. They played a few more songs, spanning from the first album to the newest, then ended the set with an exceptionally powerful version of “Woman King.” Sam and the band came out for an encore and played one last song. The girls in his band had suddenly dressed themselves in fake beards for laughs, and Beam stunned the audience once more with a cover of Edie Brickell’s “What I Am,” which he skillfully made his own. Assuming everyone made it home ok with all the merlot in their systems, they’ll undoubtedly be back for Cousin Sam’s next visit.