IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Iron & Wine
By Jeff Elbel September 25, 2013 5:14PM
Sam Beam of Iron & Wine
The stronghold of Chicago-based support enjoyed by Iron and Wine was earned through frequent local shows. Visits in recent years by Texas resident Sam Beam have featured crowded Lollapalooza sets with his band as well as solo recitals — including one within the conservative halls of Wheaton College.
Beam knew he was among friends at both venues, but couldn’t resist a good-natured jab at Wheaton’s Edman Chapel. “This next song is about Jesus,” he said, introducing a folksy number about betrayal and forgiveness called “Jesus the Mexican Boy” from 2003’s “The Sea & the Rhythm.”
Iron and Wine has evolved in surprising ways since Beam’s early, hauntingly spare recordings. Beginning as a hushed and introspective singer, Beam developed gripping live renditions of songs like 2005’s mysterious “Woman King” that referred to their recorded counterparts as mere framework. As concerts became more lush and intoxicating, Beam began nudging his studio work similarly.
The 2007 breakthrough album “The Shepherd’s Dog” teemed with Technicolor production. “Boy with a Coin” blended Paul Simon’s upbeat acoustic textures and Calexico’s expansive desert sonics. The album “Kiss Each Other Clean” added a twist in 2010, as Beam embraced FM radio-friendly flourishes similar to ’70s pop icons like Kenny Loggins or Seals and Crofts.
This year’s “Ghost on Ghost” pushes boundaries anew, adding R&B to the palette while reaching for signature moves from earlier days. “The Desert Babbler” continues to explore the breezy yacht-rock sounds populating “Kiss Each Other Clean.” “Low Light Buddy of Mine,” however, is stripped to essentials with an unsettled, cavernous vocal and nervous jazz beat.
“Grace for Saints and Ramblers” gathers all threads. The song bursts with burbling, pop-savvy electric piano and strings lifted from Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom.” A clattering chorus leaps with Motown dance steps, Latin American handclap rhythms, zingy acoustic guitars and California harmonies.
Expect the unusual fusion to unfurl with joyful life at the elegant Chicago Theatre.
♦ Iron and Wine, 7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 27, The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State. $42.50 – $53. (312) 462-6300; thechicagotheatre.com. SPOTIFY playlist: http://spoti.fi/1gBLoMT
Jeff Elbel is a Sun-Times