Iron & Wine With Gregory Alan Isakov Granada Theater, Dallas Tuesday, April 28, 2015
As sure as I am breathing, Sam Beam -- aka Iron & Wine -- is right now feeling mighty good about the city of Dallas. A sold-out show with an audience that was both respectful and boisterous will do that for a performer. Despite being packed to the back wall of the Granada Theater, there was hardly a whisper to be heard while he and his band played a long and beautiful set of music.
Taking the stage at 9:00 p.m. sharp, Beam looked trim and sharply dressed in a pressed shirt and jacket, his luxuriant (trademark?) beard filling a fair bit of the distance between chin and guitar. Welcoming the full house with the comment that it's "always good to play for Texans," Beam and his four-piece band began the evening with "Woman King." It was pretty clear this was going to be a special night in terms of audience attentiveness, and Beam was effusive in both his appreciation and humor.
On this tour, Beam is accompanied by a backing band that includes multi-string (acoustic lead guitar, mandolin, banjo), bass, drums and keyboardist Justin Case. A particular standout in the mix was Case, filling the right side of the stage with a spinet piano, Korg and Fender Rhodes, played through a genuine old Leslie cabinet. He washed the arrangements with sounds that seemed to stand in for everything from steel guitar to Hammond organ.
Early in the set the band played a great version of "Low Light Buddy of Mine," the song climaxing in a hypnotic, discordant drone over an ascending scale that the crowd seemed to love. Other early set favorites included "Everyone's Summer of '95", with Beam demonstrating his considerable finger-picking skills.
After about 30 minutes, the band left Beam alone on the stage, bathed in a blue light as he asked the audience for requests. With shouts coming from all over the theater, he settled on "Sodom, South Georgia." The solo performance provided a segue to Beam's early, lo-fi acoustic beginnings, and again the audience created an environment where you could hear a pin drop. Opening up the floor once again to requests, he bantered with some fans down close to the stage and declared, "We have a winner, and the winner is me".
He then began plucking out "Evening on the Ground." Playing the tricky rhythm of the song, he pointed out that he has only two hands, and so the audience needed to help with the solo that he couldn't play. We were instructed to imagine the most amazing sound, best pictured by thinking of a Dallas Cowboy throwing a flaming football to the sun and thinking of the sound that would make. I don't know that the image conjured up the solo he was hoping for, but it was pretty damn funny.
The four-song solo set concluded with an affecting version of "Naked as We Came," with many in the audience singing along.
The band returned and started the second half of the show with Beam making the comment that the crowd "seems to like the old shit." The second set began with "On Your Wings," the accompanist playing a nice slide mandolin. It was yet another arrangement that worked well with the band, while maintaining enough intimacy to have many in the crowd once again singing along.
Other highlights of the second half of the evening included a spooky rendition of "The Sea and the Rhythm," with an electric drum pitch shifting and Beam's voice echoing. The set ended with "Lover's Revolution." Looking out at the audience from the balcony, I could see many couples slow dancing to the music. Indeed, the evening seemed like a fantastic date night. Beam's song lyrics deal with the human experience and love gained and lost, just the thing to get the emotions flowing.
Responding to the calls for an encore, Beam returned alone to the stage and once again took the opportunity to say it was the best evening he had experienced in a long time. He ended the evening with "Muddy Hymnal," taking us back to his earliest recording.
The evening opened with a set by Gregory Alan Isakov. Sorry to say I was not familiar with Isakov, but it seemed the rest of the audience was. Telling the audience he "hoped you like sad songs," his voice was strong and crystal clear, beautifully filling the Theater. His half hour set, accompanied by guitarist Steve Varney, was extremely well received. In addition to the two guitars, his occasional stomping on a bass pedal that sounded like a bass drum from Hell was the perfect accent to his songs. I look forward to learning more about his music over the next few days.
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