IRON & WINE TREAT GLASGOW TO AN INTIMATE PERFORMANCE AT O2 ACADEMY
If so-called "Monday Brain" is having its way with Sam Beam tonight then blessed is anyone who sees him play on any other night of the week. Not only is his performance quite spellbinding but his stage presence is also warm, generous and endearing. Glasgow's O2 Academy is all dressed up for the occasion as patrons are treated to an intimate, seated concert in the historic theatre. The distant ceiling is draped in white while the stage sits beneath a collection of puffy white clouds, creating a rather dream-like atmosphere, as if floating in a hot-air balloon.
Dreaminess and drama is first provided by Scotland's own Kathryn Joseph. Expert in casting her beautiful dark magic over any audience with little more than her piano and voice, tonight she is accompanied by her musical partner and wizard of other noises, Marcus Mackay. Together they envelop the audience in eerie melodies and subtly beguiling rhythms. The title track from forthcoming release From When I Wake The Want Is introduces Joseph's iconic vocal over gentle piano, while 'The Mouth and The Weary' immediately heightens tensions in the room with thunderous piano and haunting lyrics. The highlight of her performance comes in the final new song, the gorgeous and heart-breaking 'Tell My Lover' which renders the audience momentarily stunned before erupting with earnest applause. Ever gracious and humble, the duo share a grateful embrace as they depart the stage.
Beneath the clouds appears Iron and Wine, a five-piece ensemble vehicle for the music of singer-songwriter Sam Beam. It's been a few years since Beam performed under this name in Scotland but he's welcomed almost like family by his adoring audience. Despite almost stumbling into position he appears relaxed and comfortable as he starts into mellow opener 'The Trapeze Swinger'. Performing with him are Beth Goodfellow and Eliza Hardy-Jones on percussion and keys respectively, Sebastian Steinberg on electric and double bass, and Teddy Rankin-Parker on cello, all providing vocals throughout the show.
This combination of instruments and voices is a picturesque setting for Beam's songs; his eloquent storytelling navigates listeners through yearning and regret, joy and passion, and so many feelings in between. The music alone is mesmerising, as in 'On Your Wings' and 'Lion's Mane' which Beam complains has "so many chords". He fumbles his fingers over his guitar and afterwards offers "apologies if you've been waiting a long time to hear me play that song." He appears to be enjoying himself though, laughing with Steinberg while the rest of the band take a break, and jesting with the hushed audience, saying "It's hard to concentrate when y'all are being so respectful and quiet."
His playing alternates between the most delicate and fluid finger-picking and some instinctively emphatic strumming. Several songs have been reworked to match the atmosphere of last year's 'Beast Epic', the latest Iron and Wine release that this tour is showcasing. The performance overall is quite enchanting with some very pretty moments pulled from all previous albums. 'Arms of a Thief' is dark and swampy with classical overtones; 'Muddy Hymnal' features a honky piano solo retaining its true alt-folk character and 'Fever Dream' is so magnificently restrained that even the cello sounds breathy.
The show climaxes with the spell-binding beauty of 'House By The Sea' with North African-influenced drumming and pseudo-Arabic modes, the room feels like it should be twirling towards ecstasy. Beam conducts the final strain of 'About A Bruise' and when all five voices combine they jolt the audience into full consciousness. The entire audience is on their feet within a split second demanding an encore. The band oblige after a minute or so of rapturous applause, leaving the crowd still a little dazed and awestruck by all that they've just witnessed. Tonight will be remembered happily, fondly, as in a dream.