New York City
You’ve heard of the “Wall of Sound.” How about the “ScreenDoor of Sound”? Sam Beam, Iron & Wine’s 30-year-old frontbeard,makes music to mope to–tranquil, rustic near-ballads with lyrics thatcontemplate spreading the ashes of your spouse around the yard. Nowimagine a room full of people honoring these gossamer songs, in thrallto the chilly breezes that waft through them; it’s not exactlyWoodstock ’99. The closest analogy would be a Quaker meeting, where thefaithful worship in silence until the spirit moves someone to stand andshare. But since Beam’s subject matter–fear of death, existentialloneliness, the desire to look like a lumberjack–seems to demandhushed contemplation, the faithful showed their devotion by shootingdirty looks at anyone who dared make conversation.
Beam andhis four-person band played the songs the way they sound onrecord–acoustic guitar, light drumming, almost imperceptible backingvocals from Beam’s little sister Sarah; there were few flourishes,distractions, or asides (sample stage patter: “It sure is quiet outthere”). The bulk of the set drew from Our Endless Numbered Days,the band’s second full-length. The obliquely antiwar “On Your Wings”approached rockin’, and “Naked as We Came”–the one about spreadingashes–was almost perky, as Sam’s velvety melancholy cradled Sarah’scoo. It was only when Beam strummed by himself–as he did on theforlorn “Call Your Boys”–that the spell broke. After all, it onlytakes a few holes to ruin a screen door.