Review: Iron & Wine at Belly Up Aspen
Special to The Aspen Times
South Carolina native Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) cast a familiar, benevolent, acoustic spell over a sold-out crowd at Belly Up Aspen on Tuesday night.
“Are you guys ready to get mellow?” he asked the crowd in his sardonic Southern drawl as he descended into the first few bars of ‘The Trapeze Singer,” an aesthetically gorgeous, benign folk ballad.
The bearded crooner singlehandedly pacified what’s usually a petulant, boisterous summer Belly Up crowd with his amiable melodies, sharp rhetoric and musical aptitude. Beam improvised his set list, taking song suggestions from the audience, proving he could aptly pick and, more impressively, remember almost every tune in his extensive oeuvre. He had the calm composure and demeanor of a seasoned performer and the appearance of a vagrant Americana storyteller.
Though the spectacle was understated, there was something organic and charming in the simplicity of the performance. Beam retuned his guitar, frenetically moved his capo up a few frets and began playing “Upward Over the Mountain” — a melancholic, lo-fi cut off his 2002 debut LP “The Creek Drank the Cradle.” The crowd gently swayed with uncharacteristic spatial awareness, entranced and relaxed by the soothing ambiance. Beam emitted the aura of a charismatic Buddhist monk. I had the feeling that the packed-in audience could have rallied to the sound of one-handed clapping.
Beam transformed an obscure cover of “Any Day Woman” by Bonnie Raitt into an irresistible, unthreatening modern acoustic number. He’s so adept at creating a down-tempo, chill vibe that I wouldn’t have been surprised to watch him defang a Sex Pistols tune and turn it into a sweet, accessible ballad. Toward the middle of his set, Beam played “Low Light Buddy of Mine” — a soulful, placid ditty that featured shades of southern bluegrass laced with vocal reverb.
“This is so mellow and fun,” he mused as he retuned his guitar, reciprocating the positive energy the crowd was feeding him.
Beam serenaded the audience with “Jezebel,” a dark yet strangely sedate lullaby, almost reminiscent of a Nick Drake tune yet without a trace of Drake’s manic edge. His harmonious falsetto — his most powerful instrumental weapon — echoed through the venue.
Beam played a bleak love song called “Prison on Route 41” that captured the loneliness, simplicity and subtle beauty of rural America.
His lyrics wrestle with familiar concepts of love, faith and family on a bed of beguiling yet minimalistic instrumentation. Similar to the work of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie — without the politics or protest — Beam’s sound has a physical locality. He paints a personal portrait of his America: A place characterized by front porches and good fellowship; one that hearkens back to a simpler, quieter world. Toward the end of the set, he played “Sodom, South Georgia,” a somber piece off of his 2004 record, “Our Endless Numbered Days.” The audience hummed along to his melody, paralyzed in place, trying to pick apart Beam’s enigmatic lyrics.
To the dismay of the crowd, after just over an over an hour of acoustic hypnosis, Beam broke the trance and departed from the stage, only to return after five minutes for a much anticipated encore. For the finale, Beam stripped his musicality to its essence, performing a fervent, nearly a capella rendition of “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” to a silent, rapt audience and then tiptoed like a pied piper off the stage.