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Iron & Wine (Friday, April 22nd, 2005, First Avenue, Minneapolis)
Sam Beam of Iron & Wine - Publicity photo by Kim Black

By Cyn Collins

Iron and Wine started off their highly anticipated First Avenue show with the Low-like sweet, sad harmonies of “Jezebel” from their new EP, Woman King. For this early evening all ages show, Iron and Wine founder Sam Beam, on acoustic folk guitar, was accompanied by his sister Sarah on vocal harmonies and fiddle. Rounding out the ensemble were two drummers, an upright bass, and an electric guitar.

The band moved next into the haunting, premonitory “Woman King,“ a favorite of mine also from the new release, which featured groovy bass, bones, sparse percussion, and old-time Baptist Revival rhythms which got the audience clapping along.

Various percussive styles throughout the show included reggae, blues, country, and even a grunge blur pounding at times behind the melodies, providing a drone. On occasion, the vocals even had sea shanty feel.

To me, Iron & Wine is like both of Alan Sparhawk’s bands, Low and Black-eyed Snakes, smooshed together. They incorporate African percussion, the old-timey ¾ over 5/8 rhythm that intensifies the percussiveness of the songs. Congas and djembe contributed to this percussion oriented band’s hypnotic rhythms. The dark, low guitar was slithery as a snake. The music would intensify in layers and instrumentation, and then the instruments would gradually back out. . . one of the most compelling things in music to me is not the increase in speed, but variance in layers and melody.

Sam Beam’s dry, whispery vocals at some points reminded me of Calexico, a band who also rhythmically and vocally conjure up images of that dry, dusty Southwest desert sparseness, complete with the spooky wind chimes and rattles, and silences that make you very aware that its just you in this world, alone with the sky, the dirt, the rattlesnakes, and the ghosts.

I was happy to hear the song I love the most from the Woman King EP, “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven,” an old ballad style shaker rhythm song with folkloric lyrics and gospel references.

The show was straight forward, serious, and direct, honest and raw. There was no witty banter, which maybe helped to keep the huge crowd mesmerized by the music until the end when the audience broke the mostly quiet show with wild applause.

Cyn Collins is