Kissing New York Clean: Iron and Wine at Radio City

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Published January 31, 2011

 

IRON AND WINE’S SAM BEAM. PHOTOS BY AUSTIN NELSON

Sam Beam has successfully changed his timbre without changing his tone. On Iron And Wine’s fourth full-length LP, Kiss Each Other Clean (out now), Beam keeps his honeyed sound while transposing it into a major key—and that’s not all. The skeletons of the songs are pulled from the same secular hymnal Beam has compiled for a decade now, but the orchestrations have reached a delicate complexity, shifting and mixing genres multiple times within the same song.

Biblical and rural Southern imagery has always been at the heart of Beam’s lyrics, and each Iron and Wine album has been fuller and more richly orchestrated than the last—but listening to Kiss Each Other Clean is like reading Faulkner. The lyrics illustrate the same play between subtle unease and a sense of hope as they always have, but on Kiss Each Other Clean they are disguised in fashions of classic rock, ‘70s pop, free jazz, acid jazz, funk, lounge rock, and even West African highlife. There are synths and kalimbas and organs with overdrive and heavily flanged backing vocals. There are songs that sound bone-dry one moment and have reverb dripping out of the speakers the next. The production is ambitious, to say the least.

At their sold-out Radio City Music Hall show on Saturday, one of only three US dates, Iron and Wine played a mixture of old and new, but even the older songs had a more open and experimental feel. The new line-up adds a horn section to the stage. They performed extended arrangements of six tracks from the new record, several from Our Endless Numbered Days, a couple from 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, and a handful of B-sides, including the new crowd favorite, “Summer in Savannah.”

 

Minus a few hiccups (Beam flubbed a couple lyrics, but laughed it off with the audience each time), and with a little humor and charm, Iron and Wine pulled off their musical shift and won over an intermittently apprehensive audience. Some of the new Iron and Wine might even be considered danceable. There was playful banter between each song, and the only thing that Beam seemed briefly fazed by was someone jokingly calling out “Judas!” Beam played another song and then said “Jesus loved Judas!” The audience member responded that he was only kidding and Beam laughed and said, “I was too! Jesus hated the fuck out of Judas!”

IRON AND WINE HEADS TO STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN LATER THIS WEEK FOR THE FIRST CONCERT OF A TEN-NIGHT EUROPEAN TOUR. KISS EACH OTHER CLEAN (WARNER MUSIC) IS NOW AVAILABLE.