Published Oct 16, 2011The bygone version of Iron & Wine -- a ghostly troubadour -- would have been an entirely incongruent Saturday night Sound Academy booking (acoustic pucks and drunken punters don't mix particularly well). Conversely, the current incarnation of Sam Beam's band -- a rollicking mini-orchestra -- did a solid job of subduing and engaging a chattering crowd.
Given the confines, opener Marketa Irglova, of the Swell Season, didn't fare quite as well. Lately enlisted as a part-time Iron & Wine back-up singer, the Once star has a new collection of solo material to flaunt. Anchored by a Persian drum, rife with pretty vocal harmonies, and steered by Irglova's ethereal voice and keys -- think Emm Gryner with a hint of Czech -- the set was better suited to a theatre than a club. Still, crowd prattle didn't entirely stomp out the performance, despite its best efforts.
Out of the gate, Beam and co. -- filled out by a horn section, a pair of percussionists, back-up singers and a handful of miscellaneous compatriots -- scored big with mini-epic, "Rabbit Will Run." Channelling Colin Meloy, Beam has tremendous control over his atypical voice, and the track's mostly minimal guitar work let him show it off.
A jammy take on "God Made the Automobile" and the countrified "Lovesong of the Buzzard" were equally grand, evoking The Last Waltz, with a dash of G.E. Smith. Throughout, the dynamic band expanded their palette, blending in eerie backing vocals, flute bursts and a soaring clarinet.
Consistently big numbers played better than their mid-tempo counterparts. Hampered by an ambling start, "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)" couldn't shake off its laid-back beginning. Judiciously, the outfit kept things mostly raucous. However, notable exception "Walking Far from Home" enjoyed the always-stirring sing-along treatment.
Beam was exceptional throughout, even if his stage banter fell prey to an under-volume mic. In his current guise as big band leader, he's assured and agile, and his literary lyrics, gave exciting arrangements bonus gravitas.