Though it’s close to a decade removed from its commercial peak as go-to indie flick score and default audio accompaniment for that “play an entire song and show different characters doing stuff at the end of the episode” thing TV shows tend to do a lot these days, the appeal of Sam Beam’s creative clearinghouse, Iron & Wine, remains as timeless as the majority of its songs. While emotive hymnals that could just as easily been wrought during the Civil War as they could have today aren’t as en vogue as, say, something with the “indie” prefix or a synthesizer involved, there will always be a place for a singer, a guitar, and a batch of beautiful songs. Thursday night, that place was the Pabst Theater, where Beam—touring in support of no album in particular—came to treat the theater to, as the troubadour summarized, “some old shit, some new shit, and other people’s shit.”
After Jesca Hoop delighted the marginally packed house with her incredible and versatile voice (and perplexed us with her pants-skirt-conductor’s-uniform hybrid of an outfit), a burly bearded and cardigan-clad Beam came out and quickly made the mistake of soliciting requests. After the roar of blended utterances subsided, he settled on once-“exclusive” 2010 single “Biting Your Tail,” setting the tone for 100-plus minutes primarily populated with rarities, B-sides, and buried cuts clipping the majority of Iron & Wine’s vast discography. The request-shout-wait-play pattern continued into an iTunes exclusive cover of New Order’s “Love Vigilantes,” but was briefly put aside thereafter because there was a song Beam said he’d been meaning to play for years. Before the bleak, snowy, I-94-referencing goodness of “Winter’s Prayer,” he jokingly (hopefully?) said “It’s a song about how shitty your town is.” Karma struck immediately, as Beam messed up mid-song. “Maybe I should have practiced your song,” he said, laughing.
Other small-yet-noticeable fuck-ups cropped up throughout the set, no doubt an unsavory byproduct of one outsourcing the vast majority of his setlist to the crowd. However, he shook off the miscues and—when combining them with his unexpectedly hilarious between-song banter—actually seemed to use them to further soothe the already-relaxed audience. He also used the forgiving forum to road-test a week-old song tentatively-titled “Thomas County Law.” Yet it wasn’t all seldom-touched oldies, covers, and unreleased material. Beam made sure to weave in Our Endless Numbered Days favorites “Naked As We Came” and “Passing Afternoon” along with two Woman King selections amid the obscurities.
Sadly, he reverted to song solicitation near set’s end, and finally decided to reward the persistent loudness of an obviously drunk woman—seated directly behind us, as luck would have it—with a daunting rendition of eight-minute (EIGHT!) eye-glazer “The Trapeze Swinger.” Still, when he didn’t venture too far off the path, Beam kept it lively and comfortable, as he touched on “Lovers’ Revolution” and “Wolves” to snap people back upright. To shake things up even more, Beam called Hoop back out for a duet. They joined forces on “Sodom South Georgia,” then—despite us swearing our ticket said “Iron & Wine” on it—played two more of Hoop’s songs, the first of which Beam mangled so much that Hoop stopped the song two minutes in and asked to re-start it. Soon, the pair pooled their wonderful harmonies on more rehearsed Iron & Wine songs, “Resurrection Fern” and the aforementioned “Passing Afternoon.” Following a brief stage exodus, Beam returned for an encore. Before playing, he issued a warning: “If you’re a dude and you don’t give a shit about my music, this is the one. Look at your girl and make your move. I feel like I gave you plenty of chances all night,” he said before easing into his famed cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” to close out the show.
Sure, it wasn’t without its blemishes, but with damn near two hours worth of lush, delicate music and self-effacing jokes, Sam Beam showed a captivated Pabst Theater that Iron & Wine doesn’t need a new album, a backing band, or even its own material to put on a memorable show. A setlist would have been nice, though.