“I don’t have a set list, so what do you want to hear?” asked Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, on his first-ever visit to our town in Campbell Hall, filled with mostly young Wine-o-philes. He didn’t disappoint, creating an evening from wildly varied threads, about 80 percent of which were culled from shout-outs. As he put it, “An Iron & Wine Buffet.”
Surprisingly, two of the best songs of the evening were covers — though he is known for performing them — the great Postal Service B-side “Such Great Heights” and New Order’s “Love Vigilantes.” There was an epic sweep to both the songs that was also present in the best Iron & Wine songs he belted out and hummed, such as “Fever Dream” and the showstopping, heartrending “The Trapeze Swinger.”
Several times in the evening, I realized how great Beam is — he mixes the earthy passion of Townes Van Zandt with the surrealist splendors of REM’s Michael Stipe’s early folk-rock. But Beam is a bit of a clown, as well, and he milked the in-between set time with self-deprecation and other kinds of wit. Sometimes it diluted the wonders he made. I think of Iron & Wine shows taking place in seamy little Barcelona bars or broke-glass East Coast clubs. Surprisingly, he fit into the college venue, making gentle fun of it, as well. Someday, however, Beam is going to play a stray set of nine songs without chatter, and people are going to realize he writes some of the most beautiful and strange meditations ever rendered by any American wizard of song.