Iron & Wine, First Unitarian Church, LA – 6/23/2013

When I went to SXSW earlier this year, I got to see an acoustic set by Samuel Beam, aka Iron & Wine, where he played a few songs from his upcoming album and took requests from his fans.  I had wanted to check him out but I was only a casual fan before that show.  It was a highlight of the festival for me.  A few nights later at SXSW, we went to a show at a local church featuring several artists, closing with Mr. Beam.  However, this time we had to make a tough choice and opted to skip a second performance by him and go to see Vampire Weekend.  There was a little bit of regret in that decision given the venue and how much I had liked his performance.

So when I saw that Iron & Wine was playing in LA at a church, I had my second chance and we grabbed tickets.  The venue was the First Unitarian Church in Koreatown.  We got there just as the opening act, Bonzie, was playing a Radiohead cover, when we walked into the darkened auditorium, a suitable mood setter.  It was a true auditorium with seating, not church pews, and the most obvious sign this was a church were the stained glass windows on one wall and the old-time chandeliers on the high ceilings.

After a short break, Sam took the stage sporting a beard even bigger than he had at SXSW.  And he was joined by a brass section, string section and three back up singers, in addition to a drummer and bassist.  His newest album has some more complex arrangements than previous albums and he was definitely intent on recreating that with this live show.  The first part of the show focused mostly on his new album, though he did play one of my favorite songs on the third song, Tree By The River.  Sam played up to the enthusiastic crowd and he played up to the venue when he announced he and God had come to an agreement to let him play Monkeys Uptown, which contains a few f-bombs.  His three brass players (who also swapped out horns for flutes and clarinets at various points) were their own sight to see, swaying in unison when they weren’t playing with the fervor of old Motown.

Beam then did a set without the band, and like at SXSW, he took in the shouted requests and opened up his back catalog freely to his fan.  My favorite of this set was his cover of Love Vigilantes by New Order.  I didn’t realize he had recorded a cover, but I absolutely love that song and his cover is a great substitute for the original.  As he played to the rapt audience, his shadow played on the huge wall on the side of the room around three rotating circles of light, a nice visual accompaniment to his music.  He eventually had his band rejoin him for a few numbers including an epic instrumental freakout (blanking on which song but thinking it was something from the new album) that would have made Explosions In The Sky blush.  By the time he had come out for an encore and played one last song, he had played almost 2 hours and everyone left happy.


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