iron and wine [2009]

Swedish American Music Hall
San Francisco, CA
7 May 2009

This was a great show before it even began. Maybe it was the venue (how can you not love the Swedish American?) or maybe it was the free (previously-unreleased) CD at the door, or the fact that it was a solo show.

Whatever the reason, the crowd’s excitement was palpable as the room went dark and Sam Beam made his way down the aisle to the stage.

There’s something special about seeing a show at the Swedish. Bimbo’s (back in October) was a great venue to see him in, but Swedish is even better. Seated this time – that certainly helps – but it’s also the communal feel of the place. Sitting ten feet from the performer. Wood everywhere. Unassuming warmth.

I can’t think of very many venues I’d like to spend an afternoon in, just lounging around with friends. A few pillows and some cold drinks, and I would happily laze away my Sunday here. And they have a throne nook/room for god’s sake. I mean come on.

Drifting back to the actual show, it should be said that solo Sam Beam is simple and magical. One man and his guitar can be (and all too often is) tiresome after a while, but Beam somehow creates something much larger than himself. Call it fanboy hyperbole, but his voice, his music is simply extraordinary.

And once again, Beam proved that he is the funniest man in indie music (at least in my book). He’s got the timing down, the unassuming smile, the quick sharp wit. Maybe he really is Zach Galifianakis. His ability to successfully straddle the line between raw emotional sincerity and playful humor is remarkable. Seconds after finishing a moving rendition of “Such Great Heights”, he looked up at the crowd and stated very matter of factly “People tell me all the time that, that song got them laid.”

Near the end of the night, after a woman from the crowd shouted out a request for “Woman King”, a song he’d already played earlier in the evening, he replied: “Came in late, did you? You know, there’s an entertainment value in playing new songs.”

Just as at Bimbo’s, Beam ended with a powerful performance of “Trapeze Swinger”. It was fantastic. There was a driving force to the song, less defined in the recorded version, that finally and suddenly collapsed into a hushed retreat. The last few lines brought the entire room into silence, seemingly holding our collective breath in deference to his angelic voice and beautifully-crafted words.