“Hello, Florida. It’s been a minute. It’s good to be back … so we have too many songs to be up here chatting.” But, as usual, there was a lot of chatting at Monday night’s Iron and Wine show in Fort Lauderdale. Returning to The Culture Room for the first time since 2014, the group led by North Carolina resident and former Miami dweller Sam Beam sold out the venue, this time around. The spare Beast Epic, Iron and Wine’s sixth proper studio album, was a return to roots, in a way. It was back to the original label that released Iron and Wine’s first album in 2002 and a focus on acoustic guitars and strings.
At first it did seem it was going to be a quiet night, as silence greeted the beginning of the classic “Trapeze Swinger.” As the band broke it down a bit toward the end, Beam so quietly stroked his acoustic guitar strings you could hear a pin drop at the packed club. But, as usual, Beam could not help but be chatty with the crowd. With a sort of ironic awareness of the fans’ thirst for classics and endurance for new music, he said, “All right, we’re gonna play some new stuff, too … Let’s hear it for the new stuff.”
He then went into “About a Bruise,” a bright, upbeat song that maybe the new album’s catchiest track. There was an extra percussive quality to Beam’s plucking of the strings and thumping on his guitar’s body that shows how dynamic a simple set up of drums, keyboard, guitar, bass and cello can sound.
Beam also was in routine dialogue with a dude at the back of the crowd, expressing his love for the details. In between songs the guy would yell out things like, “I love your beard,” “I love your guitar,” “I love your cellist” (Teddy Rankin Parker), “I love your drummer” (Beth Goodfellow) and “I love Sebastian” [Steinberg, once known as a member of Soul Coughing]. “Loving Sebastian is embracing darkness,” was Beam’s response to the latter. I don’t know why dude forgot to say anything about Eliza Hardy Jones, whose delicate piano playing and beautiful voice supplemented Beam’s own cooing vocals nicely. Props to the young woman somewhere at the front who told Beam, “Your legs are cute.”
“I can honestly say I’ve never been told that before,” Beam replied with a chuckle.
Though Beam and the audience kept the mood light, the music was often pretty in an almost sublime manner. Adding to the show’s sweet ambiance were puffy, giant cotton ball clouds and a simple scrim screen that reflected an array of lighting that bathed the stage in a mood of dusk or dawn, at times. It made for a creative and beautiful light show, as even the puffy clouds reflected the light back with a depth you would have not expected from such a simple stage setup.
Reflective of the new album’s return to simpler instrumentation (no more horn section), Beam’s touring band was spare but rich in talent. The beautiful new song, “Last Night” and early songs like “Weary Memory” were given full justice. The latter featured an especially pretty cello solo that put the 2002 track in the world of Beast Epic. The band often brought an extra swing to the songs. “Dearest Forsaken” — which Beam introduced with, “This is an old one for the old people” — sounded downright jazzy.
Throughout the night, Beam took occasional sips of a healthy pour of red wine set up on a bamboo tray in front of him (As he is an old Miami friend [see these articles], we met him after the show to find it was Rosso di Montalcino from La Torre, a rather nice Tuscan wine). It lasted through the entire set and was probably the perfect drink for the evening’s chill vibes. The big “Grace For Saints And Ramblers” came across as super mellow and featured Beam sing-speaking the song’s dense verses before spare versions of the choruses of “But it all came down to you and I,” with pretty harmonizing by Goodfellow and Jones. The song’s sprawling spaciousness allowed for Parker to soar on his cello for a nice solo.
An extended version of “House by the Sea” had a percussive and pick-prominent quality and highlighted Goodfellow’s jazzy drumming during an extended coda. Just as the band had their highlight moments, they dipped to leave Bean solo on stage for a section of requests. After Beam spoke about a sort of love/hate relationship with Florida that all us residents can relate to, he asked for some requests, which turned the crowd more boisterous than ever. “You guys had a lot of good ideas,” Beam said, “but I think I’m gonna do this one.” Then he went into “God Made the Automobile,” a deep cut from 2009’s Around the Well.
Then (maybe) came the crowd pleaser. “Let’s do ‘Naked as We Came,’” he revealed to cheers before adding, “On second thought, let’s not. I’m just fucking with you” (Oh, that Sam Beam, such a card). The fans’ love for the song allowed Beam to sing hushedly, and the audience actually sounded good singing along — probably because it was mostly women in the audience singing the chorus. In between verses, Beam even said, “You guys sound beautiful … I’m just going to let you sing.”
According to the set list, the solo set was supposed to be only two songs, but he threw in “Rabbit Will Run” before the band joined him on stage for a song he said always reminds him of Miami before diplomatically adding, “Maybe Fort Lauderdale too.” “Bird Stealing Bread” kicked off a solid set of songs that flowed into each other with hardly a break for any banter, including “Fever Dream,” “Call it Dreaming,” “Muddy Hymnal,” “The Truest Stars We Know,” “Boy With a Coin” and, finally, a song that people had been screaming for all night and quickly recognized by the taps on the drum rim alone: “Woman King.”
The encore came shortly after. Somehow Beam’s beard has become a real gimmick because the ladies in the band joined the men, who are all bearded, by donning costume beards. The song happened to be a famous single that defined the ‘90s alternative rock breakthrough in pop music by a band featuring a female singer. “We’re going to do one more, and we will send you into the warm South Florida air,” Beam said before kicking off a dreamy, almost slow-core version of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.”
And that was it, a solidly unpretentious, friendly and well-played show by a still down-to-earth old friend (so pardon any bias). Below is the set list we took home:
Check out the Iron and Wine tour page for more East Coast dates through mid-November. The band hits Iceland and Europe, early next year. Sub Pop Records invited us to the show for the purpose of this review.