Iron & Wine evoke summer in my mind. Lazy, lemonade-fueled summer days, spent humming on a porch or in a kitchen cooking with peaches. So when I headed to the State Theatre on Monday night to see bearded singer-songwriter Sam Beam, I expected to hear the opening salvos of summer — as quietly plucked as they might be.
But this performance was nothing like the minimalist affair I anticipated. Beam had eight musicians behind him, including female back-up singers, horn players, and a drummer. The songs from his new album, Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros. Records), are bright, loud, and layered, influenced by '60s and '70s pop as well as folk, country, and world music. The lights flashed, and (much to my chagrin) there were several dragging jam sessions that I could only describe as borderline psychedelic.
That said, Iron & Wine's new material — he played a lot of it, mixed with revamped versions of older songs like "House by the Sea," from his 2007 release, The Shepherd's Dog — retains Beam's storied, nostalgic, lyrical sensibilities. " 'Time isn't kind or unkind,' you liked to say/But I wonder to who/And what it is you're saying today," he asked on "Tree By the River," one of the best off the new album. The words shone simply even against their energetic accompaniment, just as they did when Beam came out for his encore: an aching, soaring, solo version of "Flightless Bird, American Mouth," performed practically a cappella, with just the faintest guitar played underneath.
The opening act was the Rhode Island quartet the Low Anthem, whose fourth album, released this year, was recorded in an abandoned pasta-sauce factory. Their songs were eerie and languid. If Iron & Wine's new stuff is good for the summer barbecue, the Low Anthem are perfect for winding down once everyone leaves.