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Iron and Wine w/ Heidi Spencer @ The Pabst Theater

Oct. 13, 2010

Oct. 14, 2010
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Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam is neither the tortured wallflower nor the barefooted naturalist it’s easy to imagine from his records. He shattered those perceptions when he last played the Pabst Theater in 2007, revealing himself to be an unexpectedly outgoing performer with a cocksure stage presence. It was a shock seeing a songwriter who sings so pensively of retreating from the world chat up the crowd with the assurance of a high-school football captain, and three years later it was no less surprising. Even those who previously witnessed his on-stage confidence couldn’t have expected Beam to take the stage Wednesday night coifed and blazer-clad, addressing the audience with cool Harry Connick Jr.-isms like “What’s shaking?” Beam may not sing about having a lot of sex, but he certainly carries himself like he does.

A bridge between the lullaby-toned, usually Christian singer-songwriters that proliferated in independent music early last decade and the rootsier, usually bearded folk artists that supplanted them, Beam previewed songs from Iron and Wine’s then-unreleased album The Shepherd’s Dog when he last played the Pabst. This time he did the same for his forthcoming 2011 Kiss Each Other Clean, his first for Warner Bros. Records after a career spent on the independent label Sub Pop, yet the experience wasn’t as memorable. That’s likely a reflection on Beam’s latest songs, which recycle his familiar themes of nature and purity without many twists. And those songs weren’t helped any by their tepid arrangements. Beam is joined on this tour by backup singer Rosie Thomas and a pianist/steel guitarist, a sparse setup that offered neither the kick of a full band nor the intimacy of a solo show. Once these supporting players joined him after a few introductory songs played alone Wednesday, Beam lost his connection with the crowd, as his not-quite band became a crutch, a means to work through a rote set of new material he never fully sold. Even his easy stage banter came to a halt.

Milwaukee opener Heidi Spencer didn’t have any problem connecting with the sold-out audience. Singing in her quivering, achingly pretty voice, Spencer held the crowd in rapt attention with her distressed folk songs, periodically easing the tension with funny, endearingly bashful between-song asides.

Photo by CJ Foeckler


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