As I stumbled to find my seat within Campbell Hall on Sunday, I was a bit star struck as I saw Mr. Iron and Wine, Sam Beam, incarnate with red wine and guitar in hand. His hair longer than I’d seen in any recorded video, he was the Viking in a suit with the lute.
With plenty of humor and humility along the way, the entire UCSB Arts & Lectures show fell just shy of two hours, but it felt much longer, like a personal journey into a mystical realm and back out again.
As I contemplated the lyrics behind “Grace For Saints and Ramblers,” I realized how much nostalgic insight it had into a small town where you can “[d]ance with the farmer’s daughter” in a place where “We never wondered why/’Cause the sun was in our eyes/There was seed for the field/There was grease for the wheel.”
There’s quite a bit of this exploration of the culture of the American South and its spirit. It seems to run through almost every one of Beam’s songs. He touches on everything from the religion of the South to the nervous beginnings of young love. Everything is brought down to earth with some quintessential rural nostalgia that’s always charming and never out of place, in a way that only the folk genre can bring out.
There were quite a few songs that I had never heard before (I must admit I haven’t listened to his entire discography), but each song was an enjoyable venture into very personal themes of family, love and loss. Overall, Beam has an exquisite and unique way he brings out these themes that deal with the best and worst of the human experience. One song I hadn’t heard before that really struck me and made me think about these themes was ”Love Vigilantes” which was played in the middle of the night. The song is about a man who returned from the Pacific Theater in WWII.
To give you a taste of what I mean let’s look at these lyrics: “I want to see my family/My wife and child are waiting for me/I’ve got to go home/I’ve been so alone, you see.”
Each passing ballad gave insight into the type of musician, and dare I say the type of man Sam Beam is. He leaves the impression that, if given a prestigious award for his contribution and influence on folk music, we would sheepishly say, “Aww, shucks”.
Songs new and old were played, including plenty of fan favorites and requests. The show got off to a great start with the cover of Postal Services’ “Such Great Heights,” one of my favorites and the first I’d ever heard from Iron and Wine. I’d compare the cover and the original having as big of a difference in style as there is between Dylan and Hendrix’s performance of “All Along the Watchtower.”
Near the end of the night, the live rendition of “Lovers’ Revolution” was absolutely astounding. It was like a completely different song than the album recording, with all the jazz vibes replaced with a heavy percussive passion. The entire hall looked almost entirely packed, and the vibe in the hall was cool, yet vibrant, with a sense of deep reverence.
To end the night, Mr. Beam returned to the stage for an encore of “The Trapeze Swinger,” after a few solid minutes of standing ovation. Unfortunately, no one would let me backstage for an interview after the show, but one day I hope to pick his mind on all the themes behind his humble and ethereal musings.