Sam Beam’s audience makes certain not to drown him out
Iron & Wine
A couple of songs into the first of two sold-out nights at the Bowery, Iron & Wine frontbeard Sam Beam mumbled to the crowd about how silent they were. Duh! Perhaps no show in all of rock is quieter than his. Getting crunk would be a sort of disrespect.
Compared to The Creek Drank the Cradle, his 2002 debut, the recently released Our Endless Numbered Days is positively polished—recorded in a real studio, band in tow. But live, Iron & Wine would rather you forget process altogether. The five people onstage try extremely hard to sound no louder than one would. And they succeed, mostly because Beam inspires the sort of quiescent attention typically reserved for teachers and parents (worth noting: he’s both of these things in his non-recording life), thus allowing his bandmates—and sometimes himself—the luxury of minimalism. (Even his sister Sara, who sings lovely, breathy backup vocals, is content to be mere tapestry.)
Fittingly, Beam’s songs don’t jerk to a halt. Instead, they gently roll to a stop, their inertia giving out like a last gasp. “Sodom, South Georgia” set the tone, a simple country-folk lament with limber lyrics—”Papa died while my/girl Lady Edith was born/ Both heads fell like/eyes on a crack in the door”—and nary a bead of sweat. “Naked as We Came,” unpretentious as its title, was a small wonder of a love ballad. “Upward Over the Mountain” was a whisper between family generations incapable of hearing each other, and “Free Until They Cut Me Down,” told in the voice of a boy on his way to be lynched, was the truest blues of the night, swaggering ever so mildly in the face of tragedy.
For an encore, Beam soloed on “Each Coming Night,” sounding like James Taylor on Xanax: “Will you say to me when I’m gone/Your face is faded but lingers on/’Cause light strikes a deal with each coming night?”
There were crowd outbursts here and there—one over-enthused fan periodically howled “Sammy!” like Norm on Cheers after his fifth beer. And before “Cinder and Smoke,” Beam told the nominally rumbling audience, “You guys are crazy.” But by song’s end, he had them in the palm of his calm once more. Even with the song’s repeated plea of “Gimme your hand,” maybe two people clapped along with the quickly evaporating percussion. Actually, I think it was just one. JON CARAMANICA
Slow and Steady
David Bazan fields questions, buries dreams, tells a joke
Pedro the Lion
For a band like Pedro the Lion, there’s no such thing as “easing” a crowd into a set—their songs’ subject matter leaves little room for comfort. So at their nearly sold-out Northsix show last week, they led off with “I Do,” a song about a married couple from their latest CD, Achilles Heel: “It’s time to bury dreams and raise a son to live vicariously through.” But the audience seemed to relate—a solid minute or so passed before the applause subsided.
Although less linear and cohesive than their previous two albums, Achilles similarly explores themes of death, faith, doubt, regret, and loss with real depth of understanding—if Raymond Carver had been a musician, he would’ve written songs like David Bazan. Live, though, the band don’t take themselves too seriously. After polishing off a gem from their first full-length, and offering an impressive version of Randy Newman’s “Political Science,” Bazan paused to ask the crowd for questions. “Are you gonna do any songs about sex?” one girl asked. “I prefer the term ‘humping,’ ” he joked, “but yeah, there’s a couple.”
John Vanderslice joined the band during “Slow and Steady Wins the Race,” and despite his blistering opening set, his voice was easily drowned out by Bazan’s, and he couldn’t seem to keep time. But that was soon forgotten when PTL tore into their excellent new “Bands With Managers” (” . . . are going places, bands with messy hair and smooth white faces”). Still, its cynical message seemed to go over every bed-head in the room.
After more Q&A and a cover of Radiohead’s “Let Down” that’d make Thom Yorke proud, PTL ended as they began—with one of their heavier songs. But somehow, no one seemed weighed down: After a Pedro the Lion show, you feel lighter, a little less alone. KEN SWITZER