Eugene Weekly : Music : 10.02.08

Tastes Great and Less Filling
Iron and Wine unify the audience
by Adrienne van der Valk

The last time Iron and Wine played in Eugene, an uncomfortable rift developed between members of the audience. Some people wanted to sit. Some people wanted to stand. The people who wanted to sit didn’t want the standing people to stand. The standing people didn’t care, but wanted the sitting people to leave them alone. Sam Beam didn’t know exactly what to do with the whole situation, so he just kept crooning in his gentle, whispery voice as the feuding members of his fan base divided themselves evenly on their respective sides of the stage, defiantly listening to Iron and Wine the way they knew it was supposed to be heard.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the sitting/standing debate is a metaphor for the evolution of Beam’s music (that would just be lazy; after all, writers are supposed to show, not tell). But since so many fans first came to love Iron and Wine after hearing his dreamy cover of the Postal Service tune “Such Great Heights” on the Garden State soundtrack, it’s not surprising that lovers of hushed, minimalist arrangements had some adjusting to do with the release of 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog. Not that Beam turned into Alice Cooper or anything; there are plenty of melancholy moments on Dog, most notably on “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” and “Resurrection Fern,” which features characteristically gorgeous harmonies and some haunting slide guitar for good emotional measure. But the album also features gritty, experimental arrangements and a slightly political edge that can be heard in songs like “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car” and “Peace Beneath the City,” both stunning and both very different than previous Wine releases. These songs don’t beat you over the head with any explicit message, but they are pristine examples of Beam’s ability to lyrically work over an emotion until he’s created a musical diorama that appears beautiful at first, but has the power to devastate upon closer inspection. Sit, stand, whatever, but listen at your own risk because this time around the iron is hot and the wine is stronger than you remember.

Iron and Wine, Sholi , McDonald Theatre, 9 pm Monday, 10/6. $23