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Iron & Wine

Corn Exchange, Brighton

9 March 2011

Most reviews of the unarguably hirsute Samuel Beam's shows tend to start with beards. But I'll begin by praising the luxuriance of his band. Seven - count 'em - colleagues crossed the Atlantic with him, shaming cheapskate US troubadours who have played solo in Brighton to save on airfares and hotel bills and then charged about twice as much for tickets as the estimable I&W (yes, I'm talking to you Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne, etc, etc).

They're a flexible bunch too - sax, flute, clarinet, mandolin, banjo at various points as well as drums, percussion, keyboards and guitars. The textures and dynamics shifted nicely and it's difficult to put a single stylistic label on them. There are certainly strands of seventies AOR in there, but there were moments when a wildly honking tenor sax turned the dial all the way through fusion to flat-out jazz. And then they pared everything back for a gloriously spare arrangement of 'Naked As We Came' - the song that first alerted me to the fact that one of a new generation of sensitive chaps my daughter was listening to had something about him and could really write...

The first time I saw I&W was a couple of years ago - a solo gig at the Edmonton Folk Festival, outdoors on the main stage in broad daylight. Pleasant enough but it didn't really command attention, meandering gently in the sun. Last night was completely different in terms of attack and impact. The Corn Exchange is hardly ideal - a barn-like, flat, all-standing space with an unfinished air about it - but the way the band worked it and held the audience's attention owed as much to the frontman's confidence and projection as to the vigour of his supporting musicians. He opened by apologising for the fact that he was recovering from a cold, but he sounded in good voice throughout.

All told, an excellent show. The current album Kiss Each Other Clean seemed like a big stylistic shift when it came out a couple of months back, but hearing older material reinvigorated live alongside the new songs makes you see similarities that were always lurking in there. 'Wolves' from The Shepherd's Dog took it's place seamlessly alongside strong new songs like "Rabbit Will Run' and 'Me And Lazarus'. It felt coherent: it worked.

Oh, and beards? A definite element of continuity. From my vantage point I'd say 75% of those on stage had some form of facial follicular display. Not a bad average, given that a further 12.5% comprised a female backing singer.

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